Suit Alleges Baker & Taylor Overcharged Libraries Millions

Article excerpt

A lawsuit filed in 1995 alleging that book wholesaler Baker & Taylor overcharged libraries and schools up to $200 million over the past decade was made public February 3 after the U.S. Department of Justice joined the suit.

The suit charges that B&T has been deliberately miscategorizing books on customers' invoices so that instead of receiving their contractually promised trade book discounts, they received small or no discounts. Libraries typically get a 30-40% discount on trade books, but only 10% on nontrade books. The complaint alleges that B&T deceived customers into thinking certain trade books were nontrade.

It further states that when customers said they were overcharged, the firm described the charges as isolated mistakes; and, it adds, although B&T adjusted its computer records so that the complaining customer was not overcharged for that title in the future, the inflated price continued to be charged to other customers. In some cases, the suit says, B&T inflated the publisher's suggested retail prices on its invoices and added hidden charges.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco under the federal and California False Claims Acts, which allow citizens to file lawsuits accusing corporations of defrauding the government. The statutes allow the awarding of three times the amount of damages, and the plaintiffs can receive between 15-25% of the damages.

The suit was filed by Robert Costa, former Richmond, Virginia, city librarian, and Ronald Thornburg, a former Baker & Taylor sales representative.

Calling the charges "outrageous and totally unfounded," B&T President Jim Ulsamer said the firm "will take every opportunity to clear our excellent name" and would "fight this every step of the way." Ulsamer told American Libraries that B&T had been cooperating with the government's investigation for over 18 months, even though the firm had been given no indication of the specific allegations, since the case was sealed.

Pointing out that B&T ships well over 500,000 unique titles each year, Ulsamer said the firm frequently is questioned by customers about its pricing. …