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COVID-19

News >  Washington

Spokane Amazon ‘hustler’ among online sellers accused of price-gouging COVID-19 supplies

UPDATED: Tue., March 31, 2020

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson looks on during a news conference on Dec. 17, 2019, in Seattle. The state is accusing five online sales operations, including one in Spokane, of price gouging on scarce supplies during the COVID-19 emergency. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson looks on during a news conference on Dec. 17, 2019, in Seattle. The state is accusing five online sales operations, including one in Spokane, of price gouging on scarce supplies during the COVID-19 emergency. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
By Jim Camden and Jared Brown The Spokesman-Review

The state is accusing five online sales operations, including one self-described Amazon “hustler” based in Spokane, of price gouging on scarce supplies during the COVID-19 emergency.

In cease-and-desist letters to the five independent sellers on Amazon.com, Attorney General Bob Ferguson warns them it is against the state’s Consumer Protection law to “charge excessive prices for goods necessary for the health, safety, and welfare” of state residents during the pandemic.

“In this time of uncertainty, consumers should not have to worry about being charged excessive prices for goods they need to stay healthy,” Ferguson wrote in the letters.

One of those letters went to Devon Mahdi of Spokane, whom Ferguson said must “immediately stop selling N95 masks, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes” or other products at unreasonably excessive prices. If not, he would face a lawsuit and possible civil penalties of as much as $2,000 per violation.

Mahdi, who describes himself as a “mogul” and a “hustler” online, claims to have started out selling $300,000 a year on Amazon before building a $3.5 million “empire” that is headquartered in Washington while he works remotely from Los Angeles, according to multiple online bios.

Mahdi also is listed as a speaker for the organization Simplezonseller, which reportedly teaches people to resell items bought in bulk from dollar stores, Walmart and other retailers. Other information online shows Mahdi marketing this type of expertise for speaking engagements, conferences and trainings.

In a news release on the price-gouging letters, Ferguson accused “a seller based in Spokane” with raising the price of an 8-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer from $3.50 in January to $25 in February. Ferguson doesn’t name Mahdi in the news release, but he’s the only Spokane person to receive a cease-and-desist order.

Mahdi did not return multiple requests for an interview. No one answered the door Tuesday at Mahdi’s business address – a North Indian Trail neighborhood duplex – where Ferguson’s letter was sent.

A Facebook fan page for Mahdi was deleted, and a number of posts from a personal account were no longer public after The Spokesman-Review contacted him for comment.

Some of those posts dated before 2020 included screenshots of profits Mahdi reported he made from selling on Amazon.

Letters also were sent to online sellers in Issaquah, Mill Creek, Seattle and Gig Harbor.

The letters went to independent sellers who use Amazon to take and fill orders for their goods, from information provided by the online retailer.

Washington does not have a specific price-gouging law, but it is covered under the Consumer Protection Act, Ferguson said, adding he will ask the Legislature next year to pass a specific statute outlawing the practice.

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