Pandemic, Inc Chasing the capitalists and thieves who got rich while we got sick

J. David McSwane

Book - 2022

"The United States federal government has spent over $10 billion on medical protective wear and emergency supplies, yet as COVID-19 swept the nation, life-saving equipment such as masks, gloves, and ventilators was nearly impossible to find. In this brilliant nonfiction thriller, award-winning investigative reporter J. David McSwane takes us behind the scenes to reveal how traders, contractors, and healthcare companies used one of the darkest moments in American history to fill their pockets. Determined to uncover how this was possible, he spent over a year on private jets and in secret warehouses, traveling from California to Chicago to Washington DC, to interview both the most treacherous of profiteers and the victims of their crimes.... Pandemic, Inc. is the story of the fraudster who signed a multi-million-dollar contract with the government to provide lifesaving PPE, and yet never came up with a single mask. The Navy admiral at the helm of the national hunt for additional medical resources. The Department of Health whistleblower who championed masks early on and was silenced by the government and conservative media. And the politician who callously slashed federal emergency funding and gutted the federal PPE stockpile." -- Amazon.

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New York : One Signal Publishers/Atria 2022.
Main Author
J. David McSwane (author)
First One Signal Publishers/Atria Books hardcover edition
Physical Description
xi, 317 pages ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 265-297) and index.
  • Author's Note
  • Chapter 1. The Private Jet
  • Chapter 2. "Hindsight Just Isn't What It Used to Be"
  • Chapter 3. "We're in Deep Shit"
  • Chapter 4. Into a Gunfight with a Box of Tissues
  • Chapter 5. "It's Like Being on eBay with Fifty Other States"
  • Chapter 6. "You Might Be Buying a Ferrari"
  • Chapter 7. Release the Billions
  • Chapter 8. Buccaneers and Pirates
  • Chapter 9. Airborne
  • Chapter 10. History Rhymes
  • Chapter 11. "Juanita Ramos Is Either a Stripper in Atlanta or a Native American Medicine Woman"
  • Chapter 12. How to Make Millions Selling Masks, in Three Easy Steps!
  • Chapter 13. "I'm Not Going to Take Any of This"
  • Chapter 14. "It Works as Hand Sanitizer, Tool"
  • Chapter 15. "Greg Abbott Cares About Greg Abbott"
  • Chapter 16. "What's Your Problem, Man?"
  • Chapter 17. Money for Nothing, Checks for Free
  • Chapter 18. Dazed and Confused
  • Chapter 19. Lucrative Lies
  • Chapter 20. Underlying Conditions
  • Chapter 21. "Capitalism, Baby"
  • Chapter 22. The Death Pits
  • Chapter 23. A Pirate Walks the Plank
  • Epilogue
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

A shrewd salesman once said, "In confusion, there is profit." That could well have been the motto of every business, large and small, primed to cash in on the massive amounts of federal funding issued to obtain all things COVID-19-related in the pandemic's early months. From masks to ventilators, essential goods were in short supply, and the Trump administration didn't much care who or how or even when those orders were filled. As billions poured into the procurement pipeline, a swarm of grifters, con artists, and charlatans who knew how to game the system but not actually get the goods raced to snag these lucrative government contracts. Unlike many business exposés in which not every reader will have a vested interest, McSwane's unravelling of corporate, government, and private shenanigans during the COVID-19 crisis packs a tremendous wallop because the pandemic has impacted everyone to various degrees. At a time when COVID-19 exhaustion is settling in, McSwane, an award-winning investigative journalist for the independent, nonprofit media outlet ProPublica, introduces the sketchy world of opportunists and their slippery network of connections, sparking fresh outrage over the time wasted and lives lost while greed and profit trumped public health and safety.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Swindlers, price gougers, and unscrupulous politicians profited from the Covid-19 pandemic, according to this eye-opening investigation from ProPublica journalist McSwane. He alleges that much of the $8 billion handed out by the Paycheck Protection Program went to "unsavory actors," and notes that senators Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler sold off their stock portfolios in February 2020 after hearing a classified briefing about the novel coronavirus. McSwane also reveals that, based on a recommendation by Jared Kushner, a Silicon Valley engineer with "no experience in medical supplies or government procurement" was given an $86 million contract by the state of New York to produce 1,450 ventilators and failed to deliver a single piece of equipment. In Dallas, McSwane visits the "crumbling" factory of Prestige Ameritech, one of the few American mask manufacturers, and meets an executive whose warnings about the dangers of relying on overseas companies for masks and other medical equipment went unheeded for more than a decade before Covid-19 hit. In San Antonio, McSwane talks with a man who repackages KN95 masks not approved for a medical setting and sells them to local hospitals. Lucid analysis and dogged reporting make this a startling exposé of how unfettered capitalism, startup culture, and government corruption exacerbated the worst effects of the pandemic. (Apr.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

McSwane, a reporter for ProPublica, has won several investigative journalism awards, including Harvard's Goldsmith Prize, for reporting on mismanaged health care in Texas. Here, he targets America's botched handling of the COVID pandemic, not to depress us, he says, but instead to spur us to action because "anger is more useful than despair." There is so much to be angry about in this jaw-dropping exposé, which shines a light on greedy corporations, shady entrepreneurs, and inept government workers who clearly cared more about profits and their reputations than, quite literally, the life and death of American hospital workers and citizens. McSwane recounts his cross-country pursuit of charlatans in the first person, and narrator Matt Godfrey perfectly assumes the persona of the crack investigative reporter, absolutely nailing McSwane's tone, which varies from indignant to exasperated to deadpan. VERDICT With engrossing narration from Godfrey, this call-to-action for increased pandemic preparedness, including the removal of partisan politics and unrestrained capitalism from future health-care emergencies, is an essential purchase for all libraries.--Beth Farrell

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A justifiably indignant investigation into the financial malfeasance and outright swindling that accompanied the Trump administration's botched handing of the Covid-19 pandemic. Award-winning ProPublica reporter McSwane scathingly unveils a "shady networks of brokers, scammers, investors, and profiteers who did insane things to get rich while our nation suffered an incalculable loss of life and global standing." Some acts weren't exactly insane since those profiteers gamed a system already rigged, thanks to the Trump administration, in their favor. One case involves an investor who had landed a $34.5 million federal contract to provide 6 million N95 masks. Never mind that he "had zero experience sourcing medical supplies" and "knew little about how to navigate the supply chain, which almost always leads back to China, where American manufacturers had outsourced to keep wages low, prices attractive, and profits high." He simply bid on the job, and the contract was awarded without competition. In the end, the masks--which should have cost about $1 apiece but were subject to exorbitant price gouging that "would swiftly result in criminal charges during a localized catastrophe, such as a hurricane"--never materialized. The scammer was far from alone in thinking that he could snag a contract, find a supplier, and deliver goods that were simply unavailable. Untold numbers of dollars went out the door, some by way of Cabinet member Peter Navarro, whom McSwane deems with nice irreverence "the Nicolas Cage of modern politics, unhinged but not always off his mark, beholden only to himself, amused by his own stunts." Thanks to neglect of federal stockpiles and the deluge of rip-off artists, when Covid-19 arrived, "the United States had on hand just 1 percent of what we needed for the coming onslaught." The situation has since improved, no thanks to Trump and the con artists who, if they came through at all, often delivered counterfeit goods that were useless and even dangerous. Revealing one outrage after another, McSwane's book should prompt congressional review and systemic reform. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.