CHICAGO — A north suburban businessman faces up to a year in federal prison for selling N-95 masks for up to $19.95 each during the early days of the COVID pandemic.
Krikor Topouzian, 62, was found guilty of violating the Defense Production Act in a bench trial before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole on Thursday, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago.
Topouzian’s company, Concord Health Supply, hoarded 79,160 respirator masks for a mean price of $5.08 each and sold them with a markup of 185% to 367%, officials said.
“In comparison to the market prices for masks sold by established vendors in March and April 2020, defendant’s $19.95 price for mask sales was no less than 995% higher than the median of market prices,” the judge wrote, citing expert testimony at trial.
Topouzian texted about making “massive profits” through mask sales.
“You can’t imagine my business. $50-80,000 a day, I did $1 million in the last couple weeks.”
“You’re price gouging,” one text recipient replied.
Cole found that 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 warning, Topouzian wrote, “Who is going to report me? … I’ve already been threatened by so many people that they’re going to call the FBI.”
In fact, FBI agents visited Topouzian on April 6, 2020, and literally read the relevant law to him, Cole found. The agents told Topouzian that they were only going out to warn people about the law if they were selling masks for more than $12 each. The next day, Concord reduced its price for a single N-95 mask to $18.95.
And a couple of weeks before the FBI visit, Genesee County (MI) Undersheriff Michael Tocarchick told Topouzian that he thought Concord’s N-95 prices were “excessive and that he was engaging in ‘price gouging,'” Cole wrote.
Topouzian acknowledged that “his mask prices appeared to be excessive and that he probably should not be selling them at that price,” the judge found.
Coleman found that one of Topouzian’s friends told him that the government would be “coming after you,” and another encouraged him to look up a federal criminal case in New York related to improperly high pricing for protective equipment.
Sentencing is scheduled for October 10.