N.J. Officials Duped Into Using COVID Funds on Banned Dahua Surveillance Cameras

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Federal prosecutors have charged Tamer Zakhary, CEO of Lyndehurst, N.J.-based surveillance company Packetalk, with three counts of wire fraud and a separate count of false statements for repeatedly lying to state and local officials in the Garden State about the origin of his company’s surveillance cameras.

The criminal complaint says some of the cameras Packetalk sold to local agencies were Dahua cameras that had the Dahua logo removed and the colors of the camera changed, according to a report by 404 Media.

New Jersey state and local agencies bought at least $35 million worth of equipment from Packetalk, which allegedly rebranded banned Chinese surveillance cameras made by Dahua Technology, a company that has been implicated in the surveillance of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang, the 404 Media report says.

At least $15 million of the equipment was bought using federal COVID-19 relief funds, according to a federal criminal complaint cited in the report. Dahua Technology is the second-largest surveillance camera company in the world.

Why Dahua Cameras Aren’t Allowed in the U.S.

The U.S. government banned the purchase of Dahua cameras using federal funds because their cameras have “been implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups in Xingjiang,” according to the 404 Media report.

The FCC later said that Dahua cameras “pose an unacceptable risk to U.S. national security,” the report says. Dahua is not named in the federal complaint against Zacketalk, but 404 Media “was able to cross-reference details in the complaint with Dahua and was able to identify specific cameras sold by Packetalk to Dahua’s product.”

Zakhary “sold millions of dollars of surveillance equipment, including rebranded Dahua cameras, to agencies all over New Jersey despite knowing that the cameras were illegal to sell to public agencies,” according to the FBI complaint cited by 404 Media.

Zakhary also “specifically helped two specific agencies in New Jersey (called Victim Agency-1 and Victim Agency-2 in the complaint) justify their purchases using federal COVID relief money from the CARES Act,” according to the criminal complaint. The scale of the purchases “highlight the surveillance tech buying bonanza that happened across government agencies with COVID funds,” the report says.

The emails in question were titled “FW: AMERICAN RESCUE FUNDS” and “Fwd: *** CONFIDENTIAL *** Covid 19 justification,” according to the FBI complaint cited by 404 Media. One of the emails said that the equipment could be used “to support Community COVID-19 Testing sites, communications, containment, and contact tracing,” the report says.

“Zakhary fraudulently misrepresented to the Public Safety Customers that [Packetalk’s] products were compliant with Section 889 of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for 2019 [which banned Dahua cameras], when, in fact, they were not,” the complaint reads.

“As a result of Zakhary’s fraudulent misrepresentations, the Public Safety Customers purchased at least $35 million in surveillance cameras and equipment from [Packetalk], over $15 million of which was federal funds and grants,” according to the complaint.

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