Last Friday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that an investigation spearheaded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation culminated in six federal grand jury indictments in Seattle, Wash. According to the indictment, the defendants allegedly concocted and executed a bribery scheme to gain their Amazon.com, Inc. marketplace clients an illegal competitive advantage worth upwards of $100 million.
The indictment explains that the defendants were consultants to third-party Amazon merchants who used the e-commerce platform to sell their wares, including household goods, consumer electronics, and dietary supplements. The consultants reportedly bribed Amazon employees and contractors to help their consultees outcompete other third-party retailers by accessing and stealing trade secrets and through sabotage.
Specifically, the indictment recites that since approximately 2017, bribes were paid to at least 10 different Amazon contractors and employees to reinstate suspended merchant accounts and product listings, facilitate attacks against competitors, misappropriate confidential Amazon business information, and circumvent Amazon’s internal limits on third-party accounts. As to reinstating suspended accounts, the indictment describes how corrupted employees and contractors abused their station within Amazon to “manually reinstat[e] product listings, and approv[e] baseless and fraudulent merchant appeals that they themselves helped draft.”
The indictment also alleges that bribed employees enabled attacks on competitors’ accounts and product listings by sharing intelligence about their business practices, suspending their accounts, and flooding their product listings with “fictitious negative product reviews.”
According to the DOJ’s press release, five individuals residing in America and one in India, an Amazon seller-support associate, were charged with “conspiracy to use a communication facility to commit commercial bribery, conspiracy to access a protected computer without authorization, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and wire fraud.” For their purported crimes, the defendants could face many years in prison and hefty fines. According to the press release, the defendants are scheduled to make their initial court appearances on Oct. 15.
The case is being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office. Counsel for the defense was only determinable as to one defendant, who is represented by Skellenger Bender.