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From Antitrust Law Daily, December 5, 2018

New U.S. charges filed in price fixing probe of online promotional products industry

By Jeffrey May, J.D.

The owner/chief executive officer and the owner/chief operator officer of Netbrands Media Corp., an online retail company that sells customized silicone and vinyl wristbands, as well as other promotional products, have been charged by the Department of Justice Antitrust Division with conspiring to fix prices for customized promotional products. Separate charges were filed against Mashnoon Ahmed, the company's CEO, and Mueen Akhter, the COO, on December 3 in the federal district court in Houston (U.S. v. Ahmed, Case No. 4:18-cr-00694; U.S. v. Akhter, Case No. 4:18-cr-00695).

The challenged conduct took place between May 2014 and June 2016, according to the charges. The Texas-based company operates the website 24HOURWRISTBANDS.COM. The government identifies customized promotional products as wristbands, lanyards, temporary tattoos, and buttons.

Long-running investigation. The charges against Ahmed and Akhter are the latest in a long-running investigation of the industry. In August 2017, the Justice Department filed its first antitrust charges in this probe. At that time, the government announced that e-commerce company Zaappaaz Inc. and its top executive agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to fix prices for these products. The company agreed to pay a $1.9 million criminal fine. The executive’s sentencing is set for April 2019. Just weeks later, the government announced that a second e-commerce company, Custom Wristbands, Inc., and executive would plead guilty to similar charges. Custom Wristbands agreed to pay a $409,342 criminal fine. Last month, the company’s owner/CEO, Christopher Angeles, was sentenced to serve one month in prison and to serve one year of supervised release. He also was fined $20,000. In November 2018, charges were filed naming another player in the online promotional products industry, Gennex Media d/b/a Brandnex.com and PMGOA, as well as the company's owner.

Companies: Gennex Media LLC; Custom Wristbands Inc.; Netbrands Media Corp.; Zaappaaz Inc.

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