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Man Sentenced to Four Years for Decades-Long Printer Toner Scam

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Sep 7, 2021

Printer toner, because of its high cost, is often is thought of as a ripoff, but, in at least one case, that metaphorical assessment was all too literal. A California man, Gilbert N. Michaels, has been sentenced to four years in prison after having been found guilty in December 2019 of running a multidecade-long scam through which he sold organizations printer toner cartridges at highly inflated prices, MarketWatch reported.

Michaels' operation is said to have started in the 1970s and involved him running what was described as a boiler room-type operation that sold people printer toner at prices 10 times the retail rate or more. He was charged with scamming a YMCA, a California country club, a Christian preschool in Alabama, a tow-truck company and a steelworkers union local in Kentucky among many others; he is said to have defrauded millions of people this way. While an exact lifetime amount of funds was not forthcoming, prosecutors said that in one six-year stretch, he sold $126 million worth of toner. 

This was not a matter of just selling expensive toner, though. People working for Michaels out of a call center would find a company and pose as its regular supplier. They'd tell the company that the price of toner had gone up but that the company could still buy cartridges at the earlier, lower price. When the company agreed, Michaels' company would ship to the company the product with invoices showing the much higher price. When victims would complain, Michaels would threaten legal battles or send collections agencies after them; if the company tried to return the toner, they would get charged a hefty "restocking fee." 

Michaels was found guilty not only for this scheme but also for violating previous court orders, dating back to 1988, that forbade him from having his own sales company as well as for making false statements. The scam was unwound when it accidentally targeted an organization that, amazingly, still used typewriters for all its operations. 

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