Three charged in alleged eBay glass bidding scheme

Three people have been charged with running a scheme that boosted the sale prices of hundreds of pieces of collectible Rene Lalique glass auctioned on eBay, federal prosecutors said on Thursday.

The complaint, filed in Manhattan federal court, alleges the bidding scheme ran between September 1999 and last month, Reuters reported. It allegedly involved total high bids of more than $1.3 million, including individual pieces that sold for more than $15,000 on the online auction Web site.

Charged are John Danis, 43, of German Valley, Illinois, a Lalique glass collector and adviser for the publication “Schroeder’s Antique Price Guide;” his sister, Diane Grismore, 40, of Illinois; and David Weinstein, 43, a Manhattan art dealer specializing in glass artwork, Reuters reported.

The three were arrested on Wednesday, prosecutors said. Each was charged with wire fraud and could face a maximum five-year prison term if convicted, Reuters reported.

The complaint alleges they conspired to bid on Lalique auctions on eBay hosted by Danis under their identities-called eBay User Ids-and the identities of others, Reuters reported. By bidding repeatedly, they allegedly created the illusion of multiple bids on an item.

Their alleged goal was to inflate the auction price over an amount set by Danis, then sell the piece to an unwitting bidder, Reuters reported. That type of activity was known as “shill bidding,” prosecutors said.

The complaint charges that Danis allegedly hosted more than 600 auctions of Lalique glass under his eBay User ID “norsepottery” and that at least 429 of those involved shill bidding, Reuters reported.

Prosecutors said that U.S. Postal inspectors determined that shill bidding was taking place by analyzing the Internet protocol (IP) addresses from which the defendants’ bids were placed. IP addresses are unique numeric addresses assigned to each computer on the Internet, Reuters reported.

According to the complaint, eBay had investigated Danis and Grismore for suspected shill bidding in early 2000, Reuters reported. At that time, the two allegedly denied they were involved in illegal activity and were permitted to keep their eBay accounts.