Bethenny Frankel helped facilitate the donation of millions of masks to medical workers in need across the country amid the coronavirus pandemic, but she says she encountered a few shysters along the way.
According to the New York Times, the former “Real Housewives of New York” star was put into contact with an Idaho man named Jake Uhlenkott, who allegedly said he could get Frankel and her charity, BStrong, access to 500 million medical masks.
With the mask supply dwindling in hospitals around the country, Frankel was quick to jump at the opportunity and started looking for funding and coordinating with state officials to distribute the masks in New York, Michigan, Arizona, Louisiana and Chicago.
But as she continued to communicate with Uhlenkott, Frankel says she began to doubt the masks existed.
“Everybody knew a guy who knew a guy,” she told the Times of her search to acquire the masks. “You feel like you’re in a Moroccan bazaar, and wherever you’re turning, left and right, everybody is holding shiny objects.”
The Skinnygirl CEO said that Uhlenkott kept promising more masks that could be delivered from Canada and New York, but Frankel claims he would never offer the exact location of the supply.
“My patience is running low,” Frankel reportedly texted him. “I went to bat for you with this whole group. Stakes are high so kick this into gear. I don’t care how.”
Uhlenkott said to the Times that his “original source for the 500 million masks was real and reliable, but to find supply already in North America, he went with a new seller who turned out to be slippery.”
He eventually backed away from the deal and connected her directly with his mask contacts. Hopeful, Frankel then said she worked with the state of New York to strike a deal with a man named Ralph Frengel to buy 10 million 3M masks for $66.5 million.
However, when Frengel refused to allow an inspection of the masks, the city and Frankel exited the deal, the Times reported.
“We all were completely gutted,” she said.
According to the paper, it turned out Frengel and one of his two associates, Michael Carnicle, were both ex-convicts. The pair both denied any wrongdoing when contacted by the outlet.
Fortunately, Frankel’s BStrong charity and partner organization, Global Empowerment Mission, were able acquire and donate more than 2 million masks and isolation gowns to medical workers and other groups in all 50 states, getting their supplies from smaller purchases as well as several big deals like the one million hazmat suits for New York State and more than 200,000 surgical masks for New York City, the Times reports.
Throughout the ordeal, Frankel learned that during a crisis, people are either out to help or out to exploit.
“It’s so disheartening,” she said. “At the racetrack, you think you might get screwed. But when you’re dealing with the biggest health crisis in 100 years, you have to be a really sick, sick, bad person to exploit that.”
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