Six people allegedly conspired to bribe Amazon employees and contractors in order to gain a competitive advantage on the retailer's marketplace, federal prosecutors announced Friday.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, those charged posed as consultants and worked with third-party sellers whose products had previously been removed from Amazon Marketplace get the items back on the platform. The six then paid a total of more than $100,000 in bribes to least 10 Amazon employees in exchange for their restoring the banned products or services, the indictment alleges. The products included household goods, consumer electronics and dietary supplements, prosecutors said.
"The ultimate victim from this criminal conduct is the buying public, who get inferior or even dangerous goods that should have been removed from the marketplace," U.S. Attorney Brian Moran said in a statement. "As the world moves increasingly to online commerce, we must ensure that the marketplace is not corrupted with unfair advantages obtained by bribes and kickbacks."
Bribery and wire fraud alleged
Federal authorities charged Ephraim Rosenburg of Brooklyn, New York; Joseph Nilsen and Kristen Leccese of New York City; Hadis Nuhanoviv of Acworth, Georgia; Rohit Kadimisetty of Northridge, California; and Nishad Kunju of Hyderabad, India, with conspiracy to commit commercial bribery, conspiracy to access a protected computer, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and other violations. Kunju of India was involved in the scheme as an Amazon employee, but later left the retailer and became one of the consultants, prosecutors claim.
Federal authorities allege that the Amazon employees who were bribed disclosed revenue information about other third-party sellers to the consultants or temporarily suspended some sellers' accounts. Employees specifically targeted third-party sellers that competed with the sellers working with the six consultants, the Justice Department said.
The bribes also helped the six consultants get access to Amazon Marketplace's operating procedures and algorithms, the indictment states. That data, which included insight into how the search engine and product reviews work, gave the six an unfair competitive advantage when telling third-party sellers how to post their products, prosecutors said.
"Realizing they could not compete on a level playing field, the subjects turned to bribery and fraud in order to gain the upper hand," Raymond Duda, a FBI agent in Seattle, said in a statement. "What's equally concerning is that, not only did they attempt to increase sales of their own products, but they sought to damage and discredit their competitors."
In a statement, Amazon said Friday that it was "disappointed by the actions of this limited group of now former employees" allegedly involved in the scheme. The company has "systems in place to detect suspicious behavior," the technology company added.
The six accused face up to five years in prison for commercial bribery and up to 20 years for wire fraud. They will appear in court in Seattle on October 15.