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A former e-commerce trade group executive pleads guilty to price-fixing

April 7, 2015 12:15 PM
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David Topkins, a former executive at the E-Commerce Merchants Trade Association, has pleaded guilty to conspiring to fix the prices of posters sold online.

The U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division alleges Topkins and his co-conspirators used a pricing algorithm to coordinate the prices of certain posters sold on the Amazon Marketplace as well as to share information about the resulting sales. The agreement between the conspirators lasted from roughly September 2013 until January 2014, according to papers filed in a San Francisco federal court.

The Justice Department charged Topkins with price fixing in violation of the Sherman Act, an antitrust law that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years and a fine of $1 million for individuals.

In pleading guilty, Topkins agreed to pay a $20,000 fine and cooperate with the department’s ongoing investigation. The plea deal requires court approval.

The case is the first criminal antitrust prosecution that specifically targeted price fixing on online marketplaces, says Bill Baer, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “We will not tolerate anticompetitive conduct, whether it occurs in a smoke-filled room or over the Internet using complex pricing algorithms,” he says. “American consumers have the right to a free and fair marketplace online, as well as in brick-and-mortar businesses."

Topkins could be reached for immediate comment and Amazon declined to comment.

The E-Commerce Merchants Trade Association, a group formed by the founders of the Professional eBay Sellers Alliance, appears to no longer be an active organization. The phone number listed on its website is not in operation, and the group’s Facebook page was last updated in June 2010.

 

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