When the email arrived from Maine it was like a dream come true.

The staff of Massachusetts Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem had been slammed with urgent calls from hospitals, firefighters, nursing homes and others seeking surgical masks and other protective gear in desperately short supply as the state descended into the pandemic emergency.

But the March 17 message from Diane Russell, a former Democratic legislator from Portland, offered a solution: The Portland company she represents, Noble Medical Supply, had large quantities of COVID-19 tests, personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer and N95 respirators, the masks coveted by medical workers, for sale.

“I don’t know Diane Russell, but we Googled her and she’s been in the Maine Legislature and it looked legitimate,” Creem said from her Boston office. Her staff forwarded the message to colleagues. Three days later, The Boston Globe reported Massachusetts had purchased “close to a million” N95s and Russell’s contact information had been passed around to firefighters and community hospitals who then ordered test kits and other gear.

How a little-known business venture that previously specialized in cannabis products and equipment is managing to secure large supplies of some of the most urgently needed medical supplies remains unclear.

Noble Medical Supply appears to have come into existence March 16, the day its website domain was registered, and less than 48 hours after Russell agreed to join the entity as head of government relations.

Noble Medical Supply is actually not an incorporated company but rather a new operation of Noble Partners LLC, a 2-year-old company that operates out of a two-story multi-unit building on Forest Avenue and lists no primary purpose of business in its corporate filing with the state.

Noble’s founder and CEO, Sean C. Grady, is a veteran of the Maine cannabis industry who is facing a five-count criminal grand jury indictment in Cumberland County Superior Court on charges of securities fraud, theft by deception, and selling securities without a license. The indictment alleges Grady defrauded two investment clients, in one case by falsely representing that the funds would be invested in Noble Partners, and that the individual would be made chief technology officer of the company.

Assistant Attorney General Gregg Bernstein confirmed the criminal case against Grady is still pending. The next court date – April 22 – will likely be rescheduled because of the pandemic.

Grady has also been permanently barred from being granted securities licenses and registration privileges in New Hampshire after failing to respond to a November 2018 cease-and-desist order connected with one of the alleged frauds.

Jeff Spill, deputy director of that state’s Bureau of Securities Regulation, said Grady still has not paid $238,471 in fines and restitution imposed by the state in its summary administrative judgment against him, part of which was to compensate the alleged victim, an elderly woman from Charlestown, New Hampshire.

Spill said New Hampshire was waiting to see the result of the criminal case against Grady in Maine and was looking to a piece of real estate he owns in Maine to recoup the outstanding restitution.

Dan Mickool, director of continuing education at the University of New England College of Pharmacy and board president of the Maine Pharmacy Association, confirmed he is a partner and co-investor in Noble Partners LLC and that he specializes in “clinical safety and initiatives.” He said he was aware of Grady’s legal problems, but was unconcerned because Grady’s former attorney told him the charges had no merit.

“Personally, let’s remember that the first principal of American jurisprudence is innocent until proven guilty,” he said. “It sounds like a big deal, but it’s a frivolous case.”

Grady acknowledged the charges, but declined to comment about them. He said he currently has no lawyer for the case.

In a conference call with the Press Herald this week, Grady, Mickool and their Los Angeles-based cannabis industry consultant, Adrian Holguin, said they were able to secure their supplies of masks, tests and other sought-after gear because of their hard work, scrappy tenacity and relationships with international manufacturers created through their work on cannabis products, including a transdermal patch.

They described networks of agents, contractors and employees in New York, California, Florida and Brazil; “boots on the ground” in India, Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand; and manufacturing partners in Guatemala and Rhode Island. They would not disclose specifics about their manufacturers or customers.

“We’ve been adding people as we go,” Grady said. “I think we hired six people last week, and as of right now with our combined teams and distributors I think we have a sales force of 40 and a support staff of 10 to 15.”

He said they had gotten involved in the COVID-19 crisis earlier in the year, supplying Guatemala-sourced masks to Macau, the semi-autonomous Chinese territory, and had pivoted to the United States as the pandemic spread here and the government response failed to keep up.

“President Trump and the administration have called upon the private sector to help the government,” Mickool said. “Whether it’s the CDC, WHO, Department of Defense, government isn’t prepared for this. They sit in their offices; they aren’t in the trenches. They couldn’t move a mask from Boston to Portland if their life depended on it.”

Noble’s price list offers N95s for $7.40 each. By comparison, W.W. Grainger, the Fortune 500 industrial supply company, lists generic N95s for $1.09 each in lots of 20, but they are completely out of stock.

Orders for supplies have apparently been pouring in. “Almost all the inquiries are coming into my cellphone – it’s been crazy,” Russell, who has been head of government relations for Noble Medical Supply since March 14, said Tuesday. “We are doing everything we can to get and keep prices low.”

Russell said Wednesday that none of the U.S. orders had been fulfilled yet but that a shipment of masks was expected to arrive Thursday at the company’s distribution center in Waltham, Massachusetts, and further shipments would arrive there and in Portland in the coming days.

“We have millions of masks that we have purchased that are en route,” Grady said. “We have product in New York that’s coming up now. We have masks in our possession, too, and will have more supply as we speak.”

Grady said their margins are razor thin – 40 cents for the 3M brand N95 respirators they are selling – and that no price gouging was going on.

“We’re trying to get this product to market as fast as possible,” he added. “We really are the good guys here.”

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CORRECTION: This story was updated at 7:05 p.m. on March 26, 2020, to correct the dates that Noble Medical Supply’s website was created and the date Diane Russell joined the company.


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