A former e-commerce executive has agreed to plead guilty in U.S. District Court in San Francisco to colluding with competitors to fix the prices of posters sold through the Amazon Marketplace, U.S. Department of Justice officials said today.
David Topkins reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors to pay a $20,000 fine and cooperate with the ongoing Justice Department investigation into anti-competitive practices in online poster sales in exchange for his guilty plea, according to the Justice Department.
The Justice Department charged Topkins today with working with competitors to fix the prices of the certain posters sold through Amazon Marketplace, an online market for third-party sellers, between September 2013 and January 2014.
The charges do not name Topkins’ company, but at the time he was employed by the Emeryville-based Art.com after the online art retailer acquired Topkins’ Poster Revolution company in 2012.
He was fired by Art.com in January 2014. Topkins’ separate fashion company, Gotham City Online, later filed a lawsuit alleging Art.com stole trade secrets from the fashion business after Topkins and two business partners were terminated.
According to the Gotham City Online complaint against Art.com, Topkins was scheduled to receive a multimillion-dollar payment from Art.com on Jan. 27, 2014, but was instead interrogated about unspecified trade practices. He was fired the next day.
The suit alleged that Art.com then accessed Gotham City Online servers and changed security passwords after the termination. The case was dismissed and sent to arbitration later that year, according to court records.
The other companies that participated in the price fixing with Topkins were not named and have not been charged. Topkins wrote and implemented computer code to set the prices of certain posters using specific pricing algorithms according to the agreement, Justice Department officials said.
Topkins faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine under the federal Sherman Act.
His charges were part of an ongoing federal investigation into price fixing in the online wall décor industry. The Justice Department’s Antitrust Division is still seeking tips on anti-competitive conduct by wall décor sellers and is asking anyone with information to call the citizen complaint center at (888) 647-3258.
Scott Morris, Bay City News