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‘You price gouger!’: Feds say texts show suburban businessman bragging about profits early in pandemic

Krikor Topouzian’s defense attorneys challenged the case against him earlier this year. But prosecutors say he “was well aware of the tremendous demand for N-95 masks as the pandemic worsened.”

Dirksen Federal Courthouse
Sun-Times Media

A few weeks after the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States, things were going well enough for a suburban businessman that he decided to send a few text messages bragging to a friend, federal prosecutors say.

“I made a quarter million dollars last week … profit on masks,” Krikor Topouzian allegedly wrote on March 27, 2020. Then, after his friend gave him a heads up three days later about a price-gouging case in New York, Topouzian allegedly replied, “Who is going to report me?”

“I’ve already been threatened by so many people that they’re going to call the FBI,” Topouzian allegedly wrote. “I did 1, million extra dollars in three weeks. I’m looking for things where I can make more money … That’s confidential.”

A year later, Topouzian faces price-gouging allegations of his own in federal court in Chicago. And late Monday, the feds responded to a legal challenge he’s made in the case in part by revealing the boastful text messages from Topouzian.

Topouzian’s defense attorney did not immediately comment on the texts Tuesday morning.

Prosecutors last fall charged Topouzian, owner of Concord Health Supply, with violating the Defense Production Act. They said he purchased 79,160 respirator masks — including N-95 masks — from companies in Oregon and Georgia between March 6, 2020, and April 7, 2020, at prices ranging from $4.27 to $7 each.

Then, between March 29, 2020, and April 22, 2020, they said he sold 11,492 of the masks for prices as high as $19.95 per mask. They said he offered discounts to customers who purchased multiple masks, ultimately selling the masks at a mean price of $16.82 each.

The Winnetka man also received multiple warnings about his prices, including from the FBI, according to the feds.

Still, Topouzian’s defense attorneys challenged the case against him earlier this year, arguing the federal government under then-President Donald Trump chose “to leave state governments and private buyers to compete for critical medical equipment and supplies in the market,” offering no guidance on “prevailing market prices” during the pandemic.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Parente wrote in a 14-page court filing Monday night that federal law “plainly prohibits an individual from accumulating certain items designated by the president as scarce during a national emergency for the purpose of reselling those items in excess of prevailing market prices.”

And, pointing to the text messages, Parente also wrote that Topouzian “was well aware of the tremendous demand for N-95 masks as the pandemic worsened, enthusiastic about the profits he could make by accumulating and selling these masks to desperate individuals, and was on notice that such conduct was unlawful.”

The feds executed a search warrant on Topouzian’s phone on May 6, 2020, according to Parente’s filing.

In another text message exchange with an unidentified individual on April 3, 2020, Parente wrote that Topouzian boasted further about his profits. Topouzian allegedly wrote, “One thing that’s really crazy, they said you can’t buy masks. All these hospitals are complaining that they can’t get Masks. I just bought 45,000 masks in China they will be here in a week.”

The other person asked, “But are they shipping defective ones? I saw that 20% of their production was brought online since January. Lots of little guys getting into it. They say the machines are printing money and pay for themselves in like 15 days.”

Topouzian allegedly replied, “Yes. You can’t imagine my business. $50-$80,000 a day I did $1 million in the last couple weeks.”

When the other person asked, “50% margin?” Topouzian allegedly replied, “Shhhh.”

“You price gouger!” the other person replied, according to the feds.