CURRAN SUES STAMP AUCTION BID-RIGGERS, TOWSON AUCTION HOUSE VICTIMIZED FOR OVER $300,000
Baltimore - Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. announced today that his office joined the New York and California Attorneys General in filing an antitrust lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan against seven individuals from the United States, England, France and Holland who allegedly engaged in a conspiracy to rig bids at postage stamp auctions in Baltimore, New York and other locations across the United States for nearly 20 years. One of the major stamp auction houses victimized by the ring’s operations was Matthew Bennett, Inc., in Towson.
The lawsuit alleges that defendants John Apfelbaum, Etienne de Cherisey, Davitt Felder, Anthony Feldman, Dana Okey, Stephen Osborne, and Kees Quirijns, together with several affiliated corporations and other individuals, illegally conspired to restrain competition at stamp auctions held in Baltimore, New York and elsewhere. According to the suit, the defendants formed a bid rigging ring, which conducted its own secret auctions prior to public auctions for postage stamp collections. As part of the conspiracy, only the winner at the secret auction bid on the stamps at the public auction. The other ring members agreed to refrain from bidding, and were compensated afterwards through an elaborate system of pay-offs made by the ring member who won the public bidding. The ring operated at two major auctions at Matthew Bennett, one in June 1996 and another in February 1997, that led to losses of over three hundred thousand dollars.
The states claim that the defendants’ conspiracy deprived those who sold their stamp collections at public auctions of the benefits of true competitive bidding. As a result, stamp sellers and auctioneers received less for their stamps than they would have under competitive market conditions. This conduct allowed defendants to accumulate millions of dollars in illegal profits and reduced competition in the stamp market.
"We will take action whenever we discover unlawful bidding practices that cheat consumers, businesses or the State," Curran said. "Any person who does business in Maryland must obey the law."
The lawsuit seeks damages and restitution for those who were harmed by the conspiracy, as well as civil penalties, costs and attorneys’ fees and injunctive relief to prevent any future anti-competitive conduct by the defendants.