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Justice Department cracks down on Amazon sellers’ DVD price-fixing scheme

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The collaborators pleaded guilty yesterday

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

The Justice Department has charged three men with a DVD and Blu-ray price-fixing operation run through the Amazon Marketplace. The men — Morris Sutton, Emmanuel Hourizadeh, and Raymond Nouvahian — pleaded guilty yesterday to violating criminal antitrust laws under the Sherman Act for a scheme that lasted from 2017 to 2019.

Sutton, Hourizadeh, and Nouvahian collaborated with each other (as well as other unnamed parties, at least one of which has also pleaded guilty) across several US states to make buyers pay more for movie discs from Amazon’s third-party Marketplace storefronts. A set of plea agreements offer a few more details about the plot, which resulted in Sutton selling at least $360,000 worth of DVDs and Blu-rays over the course of two years while Hourizadeh and Nouvahian took in at least $1.1 million. The conspirators communicated with each other to eliminate competition and raise prices, a legal violation that carries up to 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

In a statement, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter called the plea deals part of a larger commitment to protecting competition in online sales. “As American consumers increasingly turn to e-commerce, it is critically important to deter, detect and prosecute crimes that prevent fair and open competition in online marketplaces,” said Kanter. “These charges demonstrate the Antitrust Division’s continued commitment to prosecuting anticompetitive conduct wherever it may occur.”

Kanter is known as a prominent critic of potentially monopolistic online platforms. Before being confirmed as the antitrust division head in President Joe Biden’s Justice Department, he represented Yelp and Microsoft in cases alleging anti-competitive behavior by Google, and alongside Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan, he’s presided over government antitrust investigations of several “Big Tech” companies. The Amazon price-fixing charges illustrate another avenue for the department to crack down on pieces of these platforms, even when the companies behind them aren’t directly implicated.