Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. announced settlements with 10 defendants and four other individuals of an antitrust lawsuit that alleged that stamp dealers conspired for a period of nearly 20 years to rig bids at stamp auctions. One of the major stamp auction houses in the United States is Matthew Bennett Inc. in Towson.
The settlements created a restitution fund of more than $700,000, which will be distributed to sellers of stamps at auctions who may have been injured by the defendants’ conspiracy. Matthew Bennett Inc. and the other auction houses reportedly suffered reduced commissions because of the conspiracy and will also be able to recover from the settlement fund.
The settlements resolve a lawsuit filed in June of 2001 by Curran and the Attorneys General of New York and California in federal court in New York City.
The lawsuit alleged that Anthony Feldman, John Apfelbaum, Earl P.L. Apfelbaum Inc., Davitt Felder, Davitt Felder Inc., Stephen Osborne, Dana Okey, Etienne de Cherisey, Kees Quirijns, and Lewis Berg, participated in a conspiracy through which they obtained illegal profits at the expense of individuals, companies, and estates that sold stamps, including large collections, at auction.
As alleged in the complaint, to carry out the stamp scheme, which lasted from 1979 to June of 1997, the conspiracy’s members, who called themselves “The Ring”, conducted a secret auction before the public bidding, and agreed that only the winner of the secret auction would bid on the stamps at the public auction. The other Ring members then agreed to withhold bids, and were compensated by the winning conspirator after the auction, through an elaborate system of pay-offs. These pay-offs typically totaled thousands of dollars per auction. The Ring operated at auctions at Matthew Bennett in 1996 and 1997 that led to losses by stamp consignors of more than $350,000.
“This office is dedicated to wiping out unlawful bidding practices wherever we discover schemes to cheat consumers, businesses or the State,” Curran said. “Any person who does business in Maryland must obey the law.”
Defendant Feldman did not answer the suit, and the Attorneys General have obtained a default judgment against him of over $4 million.
If the settlements receive final approval by the court, the funds obtained will be used to compensate individuals harmed by the conspiracy.
The Attorneys General of the three States will notify those harmed by the defendants’ misconduct of their right to make claims, and will notify other sellers of stamps at auction during the relevant period that they may also seek to recover from the fund. The settling defendants also agreed to the entry of a court order barring practices like those alleged in the suit.
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