DORAL, Fla. – A City of Doral employee walked out of Miami-Dade County jail on Thursday afternoon. Detectives said surveillance video showed him stealing boxes with hundreds of N95 masks that were meant to protect first responders from the coronavirus.
Michel Merchan denied the accusations, but when police officers showed up to his home searching for the coveted 960 face masks --- they only found 100. Outside of the jail, Merchan ran away when asked where the other 860 masks were.
“When we explained to his girlfriend what had happened, she basically went into a room in the house and took out two boxes," said Rey Valdes, a spokesman for the Doral Police Department.
Reyes said the City of Doral’s public works department hired Merchan as the foreman supervisor in September. He had been working for the city for about seven months when officers arrested him on Wednesday. The masks were valued at more than $1,500, police said.
According to the arrest affidavit, the city received the shipment of the much-needed N95 masks just before 3:30 p.m. April 9. As a supervisor, Merchan was able to open boxes and switch out the labels in the storage room, police said.
Surveillance video shows Merchan leaving City Hall while carrying the boxes with the N95 masks and placing them into his city-issued work vehicle, according to the affidavit. Officers said city officials discovered the masks were gone and contacted Merchan to see if he knew anything about it.
In a failed attempt to cover his tracks, officers said Merchan contacted a subordinate and told him to tell management that the order was incomplete.
Trouble is the subordinate told police officers Merchan was angry when he declined to lie about the status of the order, police said. Officers said Merchan had ordered his subordinate about two months agon not to conduct inventory.
Merchan denied having stolen the masks even after officers showed him the surveillance video, according to the arrest affidavit. Police said Merchan invoked his Miranda Rights and refused to answer any more questions.
Merchan was wearing a surgical face mask when he appeared in court on Thursday. He is facing charges of third-degree grand theft and grand theft of emergency medical equipment.