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Amazon seller consultant admits to bribing employees to help clients; will plead guilty

An influential consultant for Amazon sellers admitted Monday to bribing employees of the e-commerce giant for information to help his clients boost sales and to get their suspended accounts reinstated.

Ephraim “Ed” Rosenberg wrote in a LinkedIn post that he will plead guilty in federal court to a criminal charge, stemming from a 2020 indictment that charged six people with conspiring to give sellers an unfair competitive advantage on Amazon’s third-party marketplace. Four of the defendants have already pleaded guilty, including one former Amazon employee who was sentenced last year to 10 months in prison.

Rosenberg, who’s based in Brooklyn, is a well-known figure in the world of Amazon third-party sellers. He runs a consultancy business that advises entrepreneurs on how to sell products on the online marketplace, and navigate unforeseen issues with their Amazon account. Rosenberg’s Facebook group for sellers, ASGTG, has over 68,000 members, and he hosts a popular conference for sellers each year.

“For a time, some years ago, I began to obtain and use Amazon’s internal annotations — Amazon’s private property — to learn the reasons for sellers’ suspensions, in order to assist them in getting reinstated, if possible,” wrote Rosenberg, who is due to appear in U.S. District Court in Seattle on March 30, for a change of plea hearing, according to court records. “On some occasions, I paid bribes, directly and indirectly, to Amazon employees to obtain annotations and reinstate suspended accounts. These actions were against the law.”

As recently as last month, in LinkedIn messages to CNBC, Rosenberg denied prosecutors’ allegations, calling the case a “conspiracy” and claiming he was framed. On Monday, Rosenberg said he “regrets” his involvement in the bribery scheme.

“In the course of this case, I have made some public statements about this prosecution and the indictment,” Rosenberg said. “Those statements are not accurate and I disavow those statements. This statement I am making now is accurate and truthful and I will continue to stand by it.”

Since at least 2017, prosecutors allege Rosenberg and other consultants allegedly bribed Amazon employees to leak information about the company’s search and ranking algorithms and to share confidential data on their competition in the marketplace. In all, the individuals allegedly paid $100,000 worth of bribes to employees and reaped more than $100 million in competitive benefits, the DOJ said.

In 2018, Amazon fired four employees in India who were allegedly connected to the bribery scheme.

Previously unsealed court documents said Rosenberg allegedly sent a “veiled threat” to an Amazon employee at the company’s Seattle headquarters as part of the bribery scheme, Bloomberg reported. The documents also detailed defendants’ elaborate efforts to dodge detection by authorities, including allegedly stuffing a llama-shaped ottoman with cash believed to be bribes, according to Bloomberg.

Rosenberg is part of what’s become a sizable industry in helping sellers navigate the complexities and chaos of the Amazon marketplace, where some 2 million sellers are responsible for more than half of the goods sold on the site. Amazon launched its online marketplace in 2000, allowing everyone from established brands to mom-and-pop shops to sell products.

While the marketplace has helped Amazon haul in tens of billions of dollars in sales, it’s also become a notorious host to counterfeit, unsafe and expired goods. Behind the scenes, scammers have for years resorted to illicit tactics to squash competitors, artificially boost their listings or bypass Amazon’s marketplace rules.

Amazon has said it invests hundreds of millions of dollars per year to ensure products are safe and compliant. The providing of internal data to sellers by employees violates Amazon’s seller policies and code of conduct.

Rosenberg said attempts to bribe Amazon employees are “wrong and criminal.”

“No one should pay bribes to Amazon employees to provide private Amazon information,” Rosenberg wrote on Monday. “If it is apparent that internal information has been illegally leaked, no one should use it. Nor should anyone pay any Amazon employees for any other special favors regarding a seller’s account.”

An attorney for Rosenberg declined to comment.

An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC in a statement that it has systems in place to detect suspicious behavior and teams that work to stop prohibited activity on the marketplace.

“Amazon is grateful to have worked with federal authorities in their thorough pursuit of this case,” the spokesperson said. “There is no place for fraud at Amazon, and we will continue to hold bad actors accountable.”

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