In a recent ruling, a suburban Chicago businessman named Krikor Topouzian was found guilty of price gouging N-95 masks during the Covid-19 pandemic. Topouzian, the owner and president of Concord Health Supply in Skokie, Illinois, accumulated a large number of respirator masks, including N-95 masks, and sold them at significantly inflated prices ranging from $19.95 per mask. The conviction came after repeated warnings from law enforcement about the illegal nature of his conduct. Topouzian’s actions were in violation of the Defense Production Act, and he now faces a potential sentence of up to one year in federal prison. The sentencing is scheduled for October 10, 2023.
Conviction of Suburban Chicago Businessman
The owner and president of Concord Health Supply, Krikor Topouzian, has been found guilty of price gouging customers during the Covid-19 pandemic. Topouzian violated the Defense Production Act by selling N-95 masks at excessive prices, taking advantage of their scarcity. His conviction carries a potential sentence of up to one year in federal prison.
Violation of Defense Production Act
Topouzian’s actions of accumulating N-95 masks and then selling them at highly inflated prices violated the Defense Production Act. The masks had been designated as “scarce materials” by the President of the United States due to the ongoing pandemic. Despite warnings from law enforcement, Topouzian engaged in price gouging, exploiting the high demand for these essential protective supplies.
Topouzian’s sentencing has been scheduled for October 10, 2023, at 10:00 a.m. During his trial, evidence was presented that overwhelmingly showed Topouzian’s guilt in the price gouging scheme. The court will consider this evidence when determining his punishment.
Background of the Case
Owner and President of Concord Health Supply
Krikor Topouzian is the owner and president of Concord Health Supply, a medical supply company based in Skokie, Illinois. As the head of this company, Topouzian held the power to determine pricing and inventory decisions. This influential position allowed him to engage in the price gouging of N-95 masks during the pandemic.
Accumulation of N-95 Masks
In March and April of 2020, Topouzian accumulated a significant number of N-95 masks, totaling approximately 79,160. These masks were acquired at an average price of $5.08 per mask. Topouzian took advantage of the high demand for these masks and their designation as “scarce materials” to turn a massive profit.
Designation of Masks as ‘Scarce Materials’
The Defense Production Act enabled the President of the United States to designate N-95 masks as “scarce materials” due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. This designation aimed to ensure the availability of these essential supplies for healthcare workers and communities in need. However, Topouzian disregarded this designation and engaged in unethical and illegal practices.
Selling Masks at Excessive Prices
Topouzian sold the accumulated N-95 masks at prices far exceeding their prevailing market values. The masks were priced as high as $19.95 per mask, representing a markup of approximately 185% to 367% per unit. This extreme price gouging placed an undue financial burden on individuals and organizations seeking to protect themselves and others from the spread of Covid-19.
The markup percentage applied by Topouzian reached astronomical levels, exploiting the scarcity and high demand for N-95 masks. By selling masks at prices up to $19.95, Topouzian profited greatly from each sale. This predatory pricing displayed a complete disregard for the well-being of individuals and the public’s need for affordable protective equipment.
Law enforcement agencies, friends, and customers repeatedly warned Topouzian about the unlawfulness and immorality of his pricing practices. Despite these warnings, he continued to engage in price gouging, believing that he could avoid detection and punishment. This blatant disregard for ethical business practices and the law led to his ultimate conviction.
Repeated Warnings from Friends and Customers
The court found that Topouzian had received multiple warnings from friends and customers regarding the excessively high prices at which he was selling N-95 masks. These individuals recognized the unethical nature of his actions and attempted to discourage him from engaging in price gouging. Unfortunately, Topouzian chose to ignore these warnings and continue with his exploitative practices.
Threats to Report to FBI
In response to one warning about his price gouging tactics, Topouzian made dismissive remarks and questioned who would report him. He claimed that he had already been threatened with reports to the FBI by numerous individuals. This response not only demonstrates his lack of concern for the consequences of his actions but also his confidence in evading detection.
Fictitious Online Reviews
To counter negative online reviews accusing his company of price gouging, Topouzian resorted to unethical measures. He asked a relative to recruit friends to write fictitious online reviews that would paint his company in a positive light. This deceptive tactic aimed to mislead potential customers and protect Topouzian from the consequences of his illegal activities.
Boasting About Profits
As Topouzian continued to sell masks at inflated prices, he openly boasted about the immense profits he was making. He trivialized the affordability of purchasing masks and bragged about his business’s financial success. This arrogant behavior demonstrated a complete lack of empathy for those struggling to acquire masks at reasonable prices during a global health crisis.
Announcement of Conviction
Acting US Attorney and Special Agent-in-Charge
The conviction of Krikor Topouzian was announced by Morris Pasqual, the Acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Robert W. “Wes” Wheeler Jr., the Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Field Office of the FBI. These officials emphasized the severity of Topouzian’s crime and the commitment of government agencies to protect individuals from price gouging and fraud during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Assistance from Government Agencies
Topouzian’s prosecution was aided by multiple government agencies, including the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations. Their collaborative efforts ensured a thorough investigation and successful conviction of the price gouging businessman.
The government was represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michelle Petersen and Peter M. Flanagan. Their dedication to the pursuit of justice and commitment to holding Topouzian accountable for his actions contributed to the successful outcome of the case.
DOJ Task Force
COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force
To address the illegal activities related to hoarding and price gouging during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Department of Justice established the COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force. This task force is responsible for investigating and prosecuting individuals and businesses involved in fraudulent practices and unfair pricing of essential supplies. It aims to protect consumers and ensure the availability of necessary resources during crises.
Reporting Fraud, Hoarding, or Price Gouging
Members of the public are encouraged to report any instances of fraud, hoarding, or price gouging related to Covid-19 by contacting the National Center for Disaster Fraud’s National Hotline. Reports can be made via phone at (866) 720-5721 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. By reporting such activities, individuals contribute to safeguarding the public against unscrupulous behavior.
Findings of Fact by Magistrate Judge Cole
The Court, represented by Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole, issued written Findings of Fact that solidified Topouzian’s guilt in violating the Defense Production Act and engaging in price gouging. The findings highlight the numerous warnings received by Topouzian regarding his pricing practices, his dismissive attitude toward these warnings, the fabrication of positive online reviews, and his unabashed boasting about the profits he made.
The Findings of Fact document provides a comprehensive overview of the evidence presented during the trial. It covers topics such as Topouzian’s accumulation and subsequent sale of N-95 masks, the warnings he received, his responses to those warnings, the fabrication of online reviews, and his explicit discussions about the profitability of his price gouging activities.
The Findings of Fact by Magistrate Judge Cole were last updated on June 30, 2023. They serve as a definitive record of the court’s assessment of Topouzian’s guilt and the evidence presented during his trial.
Fraud Scheme Involving Illinois Department of Children and Family Services
In a separate case, a former employee of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Shauntele Y. Pridgeon, and 14 others were charged with participating in a $3.2 million fraud scheme. The indictment accuses Pridgeon of orchestrating the scheme over a six-year period while working for DCFS in Chicago. The case highlights the importance of prosecuting fraudulent activities to preserve the integrity of public institutions.
Guilty Verdicts in Failed Washington Federal Bank Case
Three board members of the failed Washington Federal Bank in Chicago were found guilty of falsifying records and obstructing regulators. The federal investigation resulted in criminal charges against 16 defendants, including high-ranking employees of the bank. This case underscores the commitment of law enforcement agencies to hold individuals accountable for their illegal actions within the financial sector.
Sentencing of International Cyber Fraudster
Jacob Ponle, an international cyber fraudster, was sentenced to more than eight years in federal prison for orchestrating a scheme that caused companies to suffer over $8 million in actual losses and more than $51 million in intended losses. Ponle’s sentence serves as a deterrent to other cybercriminals and showcases the success of global efforts in combating cyber fraud.
Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division
Individuals seeking more information about the case can contact the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division. This division operates from the address 219 S. Dearborn St., 5th Floor, Chicago, IL 60604.
Northern District of Illinois Western Division
The Northern District of Illinois Western Division can also provide information about the case. This division operates from the address 327 S. Church Street, Room 3300, Rockford, IL 61101.
Email and Phone Contact
For inquiries about the case or related matters, individuals can reach out to the Northern District of Illinois via email or phone. The Chicago office can be contacted at (312) 353-5300, while the Rockford office can be reached at (815) 987-4444.
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