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Afternoon Edition: May 21, 2020

Today’s edition is a 5-minute read that will brief you on the day’s biggest stories.

John Kucera (left), Kristi Dunn Kucera and Steve Sannikov, of TellUs Global Solutions, are trying to sell N95 masks.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Good afternoon. Here’s the latest news you need to know in Chicago. It’s about a 5-minute read that will brief you on today’s biggest stories.

This afternoon will be cloudy, with a high near 63 degrees. Tonight’s low will be around 55 degrees. Tomorrow will be partly sunny, with a high near 65 degrees, ahead of a weekend warm-up.

Top story

Unlicensed sellers, federal investigators and a failed $637 million deal: Inside a suburban company’s attempt to sell PPE

As officials scurried to find protective equipment that had become vitally necessary and increasingly hard to find as the COVID-19 virus spread rapidly early last month, a suburban couple was pushing to broker a nearly $640 million deal for a stockpile of highly sought-after protective masks.

Though John and Kristi Dunn Kucera had no experience in the industry, they used personal connections to find a dealer claiming to have hundreds of millions of N95 respirator masks, and a buyer willing to pay a premium for the gear that’s desperately needed by essential workers on the front lines of the fight against the deadly virus.

The Kuceras, of Downers Grove, learned almost immediately why the industry has been compared to the “wild west” as they dealt with a variety of shifty players who continually backed out of deals, only to come back with new offers at higher prices.

As it turns out, the multinational company they thought they were negotiating with was actually a different business with the same name that had no license to operate. One of the men promising to deliver the masks admitted to us earlier this month that his company at the time hadn’t procured a single N95 mask, let alone millions.

We’re making our vital coronavirus coverage free for all readers. See the latest news here.

One of the Kuceras’ proposed deals would have sent five million masks to a buyer with an order to provide them to the city and County of San Francisco. But that order was ultimately canceled and later referred to the FBI, along with others like it, as the market for PPE devolved into a hotbed for fraud and profiteering.

Their experience offers a lesson to anyone seeking to enter the PPE market, the couple said. The Kuceras eventually secured thousands of masks, but many have gone unsold and are now sitting in warehouses as potential buyers grow leery of new sellers in a market that’s been upended by grifters and counterfeiters.

Kucera admits mistakes were made as they attempted to cash in on the crisis, though he insists they jumped into the fray for the right reasons.

“It was chaos, but we had heard we could get supply,” Kucera said. “We got involved because we really wanted to help people. We had no idea how crazy it was going to be.”

Tom Schuba’s story continues here.

More news you need

  1. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said today she doesn’t think Chicago will be ready to reopen restaurants on May 29, even in the limited way described by Gov. J.B. Pritzker yesterday. Restaurants should, however, be able to open sometime in June.
  2. One day before a scheduled hearing before a skeptical downstate judge that threatened his stay-at-home order, a lawyer for Gov. J.B. Pritzker moved a lawsuit from Rep. Darren Bailey out of state court and into federal court. Here’s what that could mean for the legal showdown.
  3. State health officials announced 87 more people have died of the coronavirus in Illinois, while an additional 2,268 tested positive for the virus. That raises the state’s death toll to 4,607.
  4. Hotel 166, a boutique hotel where the city has been housing some homeless people with medical needs to shield them from the virus, is operating at capacity. The result? Many high-risk people are stuck in limbo at shelters while they wait to learn whether the city can find a safer place for them.
  5. Officials at a west suburban nursing home where nine residents and one worker died from complications related to the coronavirus said all current residents at the facility recently tested negative for COVID-19. More than 200 residents and staff members at the facility tested positive several weeks ago.
  6. Actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, have agreed to plead guilty to charges in their college admissions bribery case and serve prison time. Under the plea agreement, Loughlin has agreed to serve two months in prison and Giannulli will serve five months.

A bright one

‘The Lovebirds’: Cracking up is easy to do in dark breakup comedy

A new comedy starring Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani might be exactly what we need right now.

In “The Lovebirds,” the pair play an unhappy couple caught up in a deadly criminal case, and while it might not break much ground in terms of originality (you might recognize the basic plot from “Date Night” starring Steve Carrell and Tina Fey or “Game Night” with Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman), film critic Richard Roeper is calling it “one of the funniest movies of 2020.”

The movie was originally slated for a spring theatrical release before COVID-19 hit. Instead, it’ll be available on Netflix Friday. Look who has weekend plans all of a sudden!

If you’re still not convinced, here’s the elevator pitch for this movie: “This is like ‘The Amazing Race,’ but with dead people,“ says Rea’s character, Leilani.

Read Richard Roeper’s full review here.

From the press box

It didn’t take long after Utah coach Kyle Whittingham met Bears second-round pick Jaylon Johnson to know the cornerback was destined for the NFL. In Johnson, Whittingham sees a lot of Eric Weddle, the former Utes safety who became a seven-time Pro Bowler.

But after failing to draft an offensive linemen who can step into the lineup quickly this year, the Bears are banking on a bounceback performance from largely the same group, Mark Potash writes.

Your daily question ☕

What’s some good news you’ve gotten lately?

Reply to this email (please include your first name and where you live) and we might include your answer in the next Afternoon Edition.

Yesterday, we asked you what you’ve been planting, now that gardening season is here. Here’s what some of you said…

“Tomatoes , onions and potatoes .” — Cheryl Thomas Johansen