Feds: Seattle VA Medical Staffer Stole, Sold Respirators

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VA Medical Center Puget Sound, Washington
In this March 30, 2015 photo, Army veteran Michael Thrun, left, and Navy veteran Thomas Berry sit in wheelchairs as they wait for their rides following treatment at the Veterans Administration Puget Sound Medical Center in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

SEATTLE -- Federal prosecutors say a staffer at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Seattle stole respirators and other equipment, then sold it online amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Gene Wamsley was arrested Wednesday after being charged in U.S. District Court with theft of government property. Investigators said the 41-year-old man was employed as a respiratory therapist at the VA medical center until being placed on leave June 9.

Wamsley's attorney, Winston Choe, did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

According to the criminal complaint, the medical center first noticed in January that two of its bronchoscopes were missing. Another of the devices went missing in April, and three respirators went missing about the same time.

Investigators with the VA Office of the Inspector General said they traced eBay transactions to an account run by Wamsley. They said they also spoke with an Ohio resident who bought one of the portable respirators for $6,140 and uses it to treat his chronic lung disease.

"Right now, respiratory support equipment is critical in medical care for those suffering with COVID-19 infections," Seattle U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran said in a news release. "To steal and sell equipment needed to care for our veterans is a shocking betrayal."

Wamsley agreed to be interviewed by investigators at the medical center while others searched his home, the complaint said. Wamsley initially denied stealing the items or having any knowledge of the eBay account at issue, but subsequently admitted investigators would find stolen equipment at his home and turned over his phone, which had screenshots of information for the eBay account, as well as photos of respiratory equipment being sold, it said.

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