Houston, Texas - An e-commerce company president entered a guilty plea Thursday for conspiring to fix prices for customized promotional products sold online to customers in the United States, the Department of Justice announced.
Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick for the Southern District of Texas, and Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI’s Houston Field Office made the announcement.
According to the felony charges filed on Nov. 1, 2018, and the plea agreement filed today in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Texas in Houston, 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.
“Today’s guilty plea demonstrates the Antitrust Division’s commitment to prosecuting executives who conspire to fix prices of products sold online,” said Assistant Attorney General 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.”
“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.”
“The FBI investigates unlawful business practices including those that seek to corrupt business markets,” said Perrye K. Turner, Special Agent in Charge of FBI’s Houston Field Office. “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.
This prosecution arose from an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing in the online promotional products industry, which is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal I Section, with the assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Texas and the FBI’s Houston Field Office. Anyone with information on price fixing or other anticompetitive conduct related to other products in the customized promotional products industry should contact the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 888-647-3258.