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CHICAGO — The owner of a suburban Chicago medical supply company has been convicted of price gouging customers who sought to purchase scarce N-95 masks amid the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
KRIKOR TOPOUZIAN, 62, of Winnetka, Ill., was convicted Thursday after a bench trial before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole of violating the Defense Production Act. The conviction is punishable by up to one year in federal prison. Sentencing is set for Oct. 10, 2023, at 10:00 a.m.
Evidence at trial in federal court in Chicago showed that Topouzian was the owner and president of Concord Health Supply in Skokie, Ill. Topouzian in March and April of 2020 accumulated approximately 79,160 respirator masks, including N-95 masks, for a mean price of approximately $5.08 per mask. These types of masks had been designated by the President of the United States under the Defense Production Act as “scarce materials” due to the then-ongoing pandemic. Topouzian later sold the masks in excess of prevailing market prices for as high as $19.95 per mask – a markup of approximately 185% to 367% per mask. Topouzian engaged in the price gouging despite repeated warnings, including from law enforcement, about the illegal nature of his conduct.
As part of the guilty verdict, the Court issued written Findings of Fact. The Court found that during the earliest days of the pandemic, Topouzian “was told by friends and customers on at least six separate occasions that the prices at which he was selling N-95 masks were too high.” In response to one such warning, Topouzian responded, “Who is going to report me?. . . I’ve already been threatened by so many people that they’re going to call the FBI.” At one point, to offset negative online reviews about his company that included accusations of price gouging, Topouzian asked a relative to recruit friends to write fictitious online reviews complimentary of Topouzian’s company.
The Court also found that, as Topouzian continued to sell the scarce masks in excess of prevailing market prices, he boasted about “how much he was making and how cheap the masks were to buy and that he was making massive profits.” In a text message cited in the Court’s Findings of Fact, Topouzian stated, “You can’t imagine my business. $50-80,000 a day, I did $1 million in the last couple weeks.”
The conviction was announced by Morris Pasqual, Acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Robert W. “Wes” Wheeler, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Field Office of the FBI. Valuable assistance was provided by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations. The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michelle Petersen and Peter M. Flanagan.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Department of Justice created the COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force to investigate and prosecute illegal activity involving protective personal equipment. 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: email@example.com.
Update: On Sept. 6, 2023, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole issued an order vacating the finding of guilt and the underlying findings of fact. The case has been reassigned to U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang for all further proceedings.