How one man is getting 10 million masks to Illinois after ‘super check’ stumps local banks

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CHICAGO — As states and local governments continue to sound the alarm for more masks amid the COVID-19 outbreak, one local businessman used his connections in China to help.

John Mikulski, Far East Holdings founder, set up a goal of getting 10 million masks to Illinois. He knew how to locate, ship and pay for them. But he stumped a bank who didn’t want to clear the $12.9 million check he was waving in the air.

Mikulski isn’t typically in the business of transporting masks, gowns and gloves to the United States. He specializes in delivering pumps, air conditioners and more. He has done so for about 40 years. 

“If you go into a hardware store, there is a good chance, in each category, my company brings something in,” he said.

But answering the call heard worldwide, Mikulksi and his business partner secured millions of masks for the State of Illinois. About 10 million KN95 and surgical masks were slated for the Illinois Department of Public Health and Office of Emergency Management.

The state cut him a check and he walked into Bank of America’s Willowbrook branch last week, but standard operating procedure at this bank, meant sitting on the $12.9 million check for days and leaving 10 million much needed masks on the line. If the payment wasn’t made quick, the order could have been canceled and gone somewhere else due to the high demand of PPE.

Mikulski couldn’t get anyone’s attention in Illinois to help clear the check — that’s when WGN got involved, called the governor’s office and enlisted the help of private citizens and the comptroller Friday. 

The money was good, but the bank just didn’t know what to do with it and other banks had the same problem. 

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza said it’s not actually a unique situation. She said many banks would be stumped by such a large amount being sent to China.  

Just last week, the state cut $30 million in checks just for PPE. Mikulski’s company got a piece of that pie. He and others couldn’t get banks to clear the large checks which averaged $3.5 million dollars.

Letters went out from the comptroller to verify the checks to new vendors suddenly getting in the medical supply business. In short, they are telling banks to clear the checks and wire the money immediately.

For people like Mikulski, there could be money to be made down the road, but right now, he and maybe others are just trying to help the only way they know how — using their overseas connections.

“I didn’t graduate top of my class in school, so I thought I better work longer and harder than anyone else,” he said. “In any way I can help the state and country, I’m here.”

The bank ultimately wired some of the money Friday, more over the weekend, and the balance of this big $12.9 million check this week. Their best efforts were not enough to get the 10 million masks to Illinois by the end of this week.

Advice from the comptroller to the banks: be flexible, be nimble. They will be seeing more of these “super checks” in the coming days.

The large order was not cancelled but will instead be delayed by at least another week if not more.

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