E-Commerce Exec and Online Retailer Charged with Price Fixing Wall Posters
A one-count indictment was unsealed yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco against Daniel William Aston and his company, Trod Ltd. (doing business as Buy 4 Less, Buy For Less, and Buy-For-Less-Online), a U.K. company headquartered in Birmingham, England. According to the felony charges, Aston, a director and part owner of Trod, and his co-conspirators fixed the price of certain posters sold online through Amazon Marketplace from as early as September 2013 to in or about January 2014. Today’s announcement comes after U.K. law enforcement and the FBI successfully conducted searches of Trod Ltd.’s headquarters and Aston’s residence in West Midlands, U.K.
“U.S. consumers deserve competitive markets when they shop online.” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “This company and its owner conspired to fix the prices for poster art and consumers unknowingly suffered the consequences. It doesn’t matter whether price-fixers operate from an office in California or a warehouse in England. We will continue to prosecute conspiracies that subvert online competition.”
According to the charge, Aston and his co-conspirators discussed the prices of certain posters sold in the United States through Amazon Marketplace and agreed to adopt specific pricing algorithms for the sale of certain posters, with the goal of offering online shoppers the same price for the same product and coordinating changes to their respective prices.
Aston is charged with price fixing in violation of the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum sentence for individuals of 10 years and a fine of $1 million. Trod Ltd. is charged with one count of price fixing in violation of the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum penalty of a $100 million criminal fine for corporations. The maximum fine 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.
The Justice Department expresses its appreciation for the assistance provided by various enforcement agencies in the United States and the United Kingdom.
This prosecution arose from an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing in the online wall décor industry, which is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office with the assistance of the FBI’s San Francisco Division. Anyone with information on price fixing or other anticompetitive conduct related to other products in the wall décor industry should contact the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 888-647-3258 or visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.html.