Seattle – Two significant players in a scheme to bribe Amazon employees and contractors were sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to various federal charges for their scheme to corrupt the Amazon Marketplace with bribes, forged documents and false claims, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman. “For over three years these defendants grew their business by cheating: bribing Amazon employees, forging documents, attacking competitors with fake reviews, and even posting cartoonish obscene gestures on competitors’ order pages. Now they face the consequences,” Acting U.S. Attorney Gorman said.
Joseph Nilsen, 33, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit violations of the Travel Act and filing a false tax return. Following prison, he is on three years of supervised release and must pay a $20,000 fine. Kristen Leccese, 34, was sentenced to two years of probation with six months of home confinement and a $4,000 fine for conspiracy to commit violations of the Travel Act. Both are New York residents.
At Nilsen’s sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones said, “It’s almost as if you and the others treated Amazon as an evil empire subject to your attack…. You were a significant contributor to the overall operation… The only reason you stopped is because you were caught.”
The couple, who are engaged to be married, are the final two of five U.S. based defendants to be sentenced in the case. One defendant, based in India, remains a fugitive.
According to records filed in the case, Nilsen played a central role in the Amazon bribery scheme. He coordinated among the various defendants making it possible for a number of third-party sellers on Amazon to access the illegally obtained information and services. Nilsen was aided by Leccese and their associates conspiring to pay bribes to Amazon employees and contractors to misuse their access to Amazon networks and confidential information. They sought to obtain various unfair competitive advantages for certain merchants on the Amazon Marketplace by, among other things, interfering with Amazon’s ability to monitor the safety and authenticity of goods sold and impairing the accuracy of information posted on the Marketplace. Leccese forged documents for suppliers to gain access to restricted product categories by misrepresenting the source of goods. Nilsen and Leccese both manipulated customer reviews for competing products with Nilsen attacking other merchants’ postings and product listings.
Prosecutors asked Judge Jones to sentence Nilsen to 19 months in prison saying, “Nilsen provided the illegal services from Amazon insiders to a substantial number of his own clients, as well as a substantial number of Rosenberg’s clients. This coordinating role, where Nilsen was the linchpin connecting a large number of seller clients to Amazon insiders providing a wide array of illegal services, makes Nilsen the most culpable of the co-defendants…. This global conspiracy caused significant harm to consumers, competing small businesses, and Amazon.”
“Mr. Nilsen and Ms. Leccese were key participants in this bribery and fraud scheme.” said Richard A. Collodi, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Seattle field office. “Their elaborate fraud, not only attempted to trick customers into using specific merchants, they also sought to discredit competitors of those merchants. I am grateful we’ve reached a resolution of this complex investigation and applaud the work of our investigators and partners.”
Nilsen also filed a false tax return. In 2018 and 2019 he failed to file tax returns on behalf of his Amazon consulting company, and in 2017 he filed a false tax return significantly underreporting his and his company’s actual taxable revenue. For tax year 2017, the tax loss to the U.S. is $44,178. Nilsen was ordered to pay that in restitution to the IRS today.
“Never underestimate the power of fraud…to get you in trouble,” said Special Agent in Charge Adam Jobes, IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS:CI), Seattle Field Office. “Fair business practices and an even playing field are fundamental to a healthy economy, and IRS:CI is committed to investigating those who bribe and cheat to try to get ahead.”
On February 11, 2022, defendant Rohit Kadimisetty, 29, of Northridge, California, was sentenced to ten months in prison and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine.
On February 10, 2023, Hadis Nuhanovic, of Acworth, Georgia, was sentenced to 20 months in prison. He was ordered to forfeit $100,000 as proceeds of the conspiracy, and to pay $160,453 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.
On July 14, 2023, Ephraim Rosenberg, 48, of Brooklyn, NY, was sentenced to two years of probation with one year of home confinement and a $100,000 fine.
Defendant Nishad Kunju, of Hyderabad, India, has not been arraigned on the indictment.
The case was investigated by the FBI, with assistance from the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI), and the Department of Justice Office of International Affairs.