Amazon Employee Reports Veiled Threat From Bribery Defendant
(Bloomberg) -- An Amazon.com Inc. employee reported receiving a “veiled threat” from a defendant accused of involvement in an international bribery scheme targeting the online retailer, according to court records.
Jason Noggle, whose LinkedIn profile says he’s head of special projects and investigations at Amazon, said he received an email from Ephraim Rosenberg, a prominent e-commerce consultant based in Brooklyn, New York, and a defendant in the case. Noggle said Rosenberg expressed concern about Noggle’s safety in the email. Under the terms of his pre-trial release, Rosenberg is barred from contacting any defendants or potential witnesses in the case.
Amazon declined to comment. Noggle, identified as a potential witness, couldn’t be reached for comment. He had previous contact with the defendant and hasn’t been charged in the case. Rosenberg couldn’t be reached for comment.
Federal officials in September charged an Amazon employee in India with taking more than $100,000 in bribes to give select Amazon merchants an advantage over competitors selling goods ranging from electronics to dietary supplements. Also indicted were U.S. consultants like Rosenberg who specialize in selling products on the online marketplace. The bribery scheme began as early as 2017 and the perpetrators reaped $100 million worth of competitive benefits, according to the indictment, with hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments criss-crossing the globe via MoneyGram, PayPal and suitcases stuffed with cash sent via Uber. The trial is scheduled to commence in January in federal court in Seattle.
The ring allegedly stole terabytes of confidential company data and devised ways to game the system so some merchants would get more business while their competitors were shut out. Some of the defendants got products removed for safety issues put back on the site, according to the indictment. Shoppers were unaware that their purchasing decisions were being influenced by bribes and kickbacks. For a few hundred dollars merchants could get an Amazon insider to erase negative customer reviews about their products. And $5,000 would buy a “takedown,” in which company consultants conspired to eliminate a competitor from the site by buying its products and leaving negative feedback that they knew would trigger a suspension of the product.
More than half the goods sold on Amazon’s website come from independent merchants who give Amazon a cut of each sale. Amazon has struggled to tamp down various problems that run rampant on the site, including counterfeit products and fake customer reviews meant to deceive shoppers. Many of the schemes are designed to elude detection and include finding online shoppers in Facebook groups, paying them via PayPal to buy a product and leave a favorable review. The federal indictment shows competition is so fierce on the web store that Amazon’s employees and contractors can be enticed with bribes to manipulate a marketplace that’s supposed to help shoppers find the best products at the best prices.
Until now, the bribery case involved only U.S. consultants and former Amazon employees in India. The court documents filed June 16 show at least one consultant interacted with an Amazon employee at the company’s corporate headquarters in Seattle.
Court records also provide new details about how the defendants tried to elude detection. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in August raided the Acworth, Georgia, home of Amazon consultant Hadis Nuhanovic and seized $100,000 stuffed inside a llama-shaped ottoman in Nuhanovic’s baby’s bedroom. Nuhanovic told investigators the cash, found in stacks of $100 bills packed in vacuum-sealed bags, was a loan to buy dietary supplements he planned to sell on Amazon. The person who provided the money, identified in court documents only as “Client-1,” allegedly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to Nuhanovic and other defendants but died before a grand jury returned the indictment.
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