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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Illinois

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, October 8, 2020

Suburban Chicago Businessman Charged in Federal Court With Price Gouging of Personal Protective Equipment

CHICAGO — The owner of a suburban Chicago medical supply company was charged today with illegally price gouging customers seeking to purchase scarce N-95 masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A criminal information filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago charges KRIKOR TOPOUZIAN, 60, of Winnetka, Ill., with one count of violating the Defense Production Act of 1950.  The charge is punishable by up to one year in federal prison.  Arraignment in federal court has not yet been scheduled.

Topouzian is the owner and president of a medical supply company based in Skokie, Ill.  According to the charges, Topouzian in March and April accumulated approximately 79,160 respirator masks, including N-95 masks, for a mean price of approximately $5.08 per mask.  Topouzian later sold the masks to customers for prices as high as $19.95 per mask – a markup from the purchase prices of approximately 185% to 367% per mask.  Topouzian engaged in the alleged criminal conduct despite repeated warnings, including from law enforcement, about the illegal nature of his conduct.

The charge was announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Emmerson Buie, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Field Office of the FBI; and Kwame Raoul, Illinois Attorney General.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher V. Parente, with assistance from Steve Nate and Peter Ravoori from the Criminal Trials Bureau of the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.

“Amassing and reselling personal protective equipment at large markups during a global health crisis is not only greedy, it’s illegal under the Defense Production Act,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch.  “Our office is working tirelessly with our law enforcement partners to protect the public and hold individuals accountable for attempting to illegally profit from the sale of scarce protective equipment.”

“Illegal price gouging on critically scarce medical equipment during a global pandemic is reprehensible, and these charges send a clear message that it will not be tolerated,” said FBI SAC Buie.  “We encourage the public to report COVID-19-related crimes and help us protect vulnerable Chicagoans.”

“Today’s charges should send a strong message that we will not tolerate any attempt to take advantage of individuals and medical professionals in the midst of a global pandemic in order to selfishly profit from the sale of life-saving personal protective equipment,” Attorney General Raoul said.  “I am proud of the work of my office’s COVID-19 task force and appreciate our partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI, as we work to combat price gouging and fraud.  I am committed to continuing to work to hold accountable those who deliberately raise the prices of items that are crucial to helping to stop the spread of COVID-19.”​

U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr created the COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force to investigate and prosecute illegal activity involving protective personal equipment.  The Secretary of Health and Human Services issued a notice designating categories of health and medical supplies that must not be hoarded or sold for exorbitant prices.

Anyone wishing to report COVID-19 fraud, hoarding, or price-gouging can do so by contacting the National Center for Disaster Fraud’s National Hotline via phone: (866) 720-5721, or e-mail: disaster@leo.gov.

The public is reminded that the charge in the information is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Topic(s): 
Coronavirus
Consumer Protection
Financial Fraud
Updated October 8, 2020