Federal authorities are intensifying a crackdown on price fixing in the online promotional products market, a fact evidenced by another bust of an admitted schemer.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Custom Wristbands Inc. and its top executive Christopher Angeles agreed to plead guilty for conspiring to fix prices for customized promotional products sold online in the United States.
According to authorities, Custom Wristbands’ did business under names that included Kulayful Silicone Bracelets, Kulayful.com, Speedywristbands.com, Promotionalbands.com (asi/79981), Wristbandcreation.com and 1inchbracelets.com. Custom Wristbands is not an ASI-listed company.
Angeles’ guilty plea follows fast on the heels of another guilt admission from a promotional product executive and his business, which also specialized in branded wristbands. In early August, Zaappaaz Inc., which has done business as both a supplier and distributor under names including WB Promotions Inc. (asi/98409/353290), along with its president Azim Makanojiya, opted to plead guilty to conspiring to fix prices for customized promotional products sold online.
Both the Custom Wristbands/Angeles and Makanojiya/Zaappaaz prosecutions are part of 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 FBI’s Houston Field Office. The nature of the investigation suggests that more charges against more alleged colluders could be forthcoming.
“Price-fixing schemes like these that are designed to give individuals and businesses an illegal advantage will not be tolerated,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez of the Southern District of Texas. “We will continue to prosecute those who conspire to cause financial harm to consumers and businesses in the Internet marketplace.”
As part of its guilty plea, Custom Wristbands has agreed to pay a $409,342 criminal fine. Felony charges filed in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Texas in Houston state that Angeles/Custom Wristbands conspired with others through text messages, online messaging platforms and in-person meetings to fix prices on promotional products on the web, including wristbands.
The illegal activity occurred from as early as June 2014 to June 2016, authorities said. Possible additional co-conspirators have not yet been named, but federal investigators noted this is the second guilty plea in the investigation, with the Makanojiya guilt admission being the first.
Formally, Angeles is charged with price fixing in violation of the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison and a maximum fine of $1 million 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.
“Today’s charges (against Angeles/Custom Wristbands) are yet another step in the Division’s commitment to prosecuting collusion that affects the online marketplace,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Andrew Finch of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. “The Division, along with our law enforcement colleagues, will continue to hold companies and executives accountable for their unlawful collusive practices.”
Authorities ask that anyone with information on price fixing or other anticompetitive conduct in the customized promotional products industry to contact the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 888-647-3258 or visit here.