House Coronavirus Task Force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, who was working to help him smooth the deal over with VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. But when I asked spokespeople with the task force and the VA about the name he cited, no one had ever heard of her or had employment records for someone by that name. The deal’s tenuous nature – a broker Stewart didn’t know, buying from a seller he didn’t know, financed by someone he didn’t know – seemed a profound and expensive leap of faith. But Stewart was convinced that he was “getting the VA a good thing at a good price.” Stewart said King was the one who claimed to have Pence task force connections and was brokering the deal through an Alabama LLC, Bear Mountain Development Company. King would charge a broker’s fee for connecting FGE to the distributor, Stewart said, and the payout would depend on shipment volume. But the price per mask kept changing. King told Stewart it would cost him $4.90 per mask – without shipping or overhead – to get the supplies from the distributor, according to text messages Stewart shared. King did not respond to my calls or e-mails, but through a spokeswoman said he talked to Stewart because he was having trouble getting masks.
“I worked all weekend to locate 3M masks that were available. The only 3M masks we could source for him were priced at $4.90 per mask, which is the price that we were being charged by our supplier.” King said no cash changed hands and that he thought he might forgo the broker fee. “Due to the fact that these products were for use in veterans’ facilities, we agreed that our efforts might end up being an uncompensated public service,” the statement said. The deal’s tenuous nature – a broker Stewart didn’t know, buying from a seller he didn’t know, financed by someone he didn’t know – seemed a profound and expensive leap of faith. But Stewart was convinced that he was “getting the VA a good thing at a good price.” He had been called to action, he said, after seeing a CNN segment where a nurse described making her own face shield out of plastic film. As a former Air Force officer, he said he felt compelled to help. “The goal here is not to get rich,” he said. FGE would be lucky to pocket about 10 cents a mask, he said, somewhere around $600,000, when the VA got its goods. Yet we were bobbing around on a lavish jet, when commercial flights were available at about one one-hundredth of the cost per ticket. When I asked why he spent more than $22,000 on a private plane, he said it was to prove he was no fly-by-nighter but a reputable government contractor. “It comes down to me and my credibility,” he
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