An e-commerce company president from Sugar Land entered a guilty plea today for conspiring to fix prices for customized promotional products sold online to customers in the United States.
U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick made the announcement along with Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division and Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI's Houston Field Office.
According to the felony charges filed Nov. 1, 2018, and the plea agreement today, Akil Kurji, owner and president of Gennex Media, and his co-conspirators agreed to fix the prices of customized promotional products sold online from as early as May 2014 until at least June 2016. These products included wristbands, lanyards, temporary tattoos and buttons. Kurji and his co-conspirators used social media platforms and encrypted messaging applications, such as Facebook, Skype and Whatsapp, to reach and implement their illegal agreement. Kurji is the fifth individual to enter a guilty plea in the Department of Justice's ongoing promotional products investigation. To date, 11 defendants have been charged in the investigation into the online customized promotional products industry.
"Price fixing for small, logo branded items is illegal, just like it would be for a pair of Fortune 500 companies," said U.S. Attorney Patrick. "In the end, consumers are harmed by paying inflated prices for items."
"Today's guilty plea demonstrates the Antitrust Division's commitment to prosecuting executives who conspire to fix prices of products sold online," said Delrahim. "The Department and its law enforcement partners are committed to detecting and preventing collusion carried out using encrypted messaging applications and social media platforms."
"The FBI investigates unlawful business practices including those that seek to corrupt business markets,"said Turner. "We work hard to safeguard American consumers so that they can buy goods and services with confidence they are paying a competitive price."
Kurji is charged with price fixing in violation of the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine for individuals. The maximum fine for an individual may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory maximum fine.
Akil Kurji was charged with engaging in a conspiracy to suppress and eliminate competition by fixing and maintaining prices of customized promotional products, including wristbands, lanyards, buttons and temporary tattoos, sold in the United States and elsewhere, from at least as early as May 2014 and continuing until at least June 2016.
The Houston Chronicle reported that a tip from Victor Rey, owner of Wristband Connection, helped spark the investigation into the illegal activity. Rey reportedly noticed odd pricing patterns in silicone gel wristbands that suggested price fixing. He was later given an opportunity to join the scheme -- something he told the FBI.
Whistleblower calls out 'encrypted' promotional products cartel