Bumble Bee Cannery Top Executive To Plead Guilty To Price Fixing

Indictment: executive and his co-conspirators discussed the prices of packaged seafood sold in the United States and agreed to fix the prices of those products
 
By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, December 14, 2016) – San Diego-based Bumble Bee Seafood’s cannery has confirmed that its senior Vice President of Sales, Walter Scott Cameron, has been indicted by the US Justice Department for conspiring to fix prices on packaged seafood.

USDOJ announced last week that Cameron has agreed to plead guilty to his role in a conspiracy to fixing prices of packaged seafood such as canned tuna sold in the US.
 
The one-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury on Dec. 7 alleges that between 2011 and 2013, Cameron and his coconspirators knowingly entered into and engaged in a combination and conspiracy to fix, raise, and maintain the prices of packaged seafood sold in the United States.
 
The combination and conspiracy engaged in by the defendant and coconspirators was an unreasonable restraint of interstate commerce in violation provision of the federal Sherman Antitrust Act, according to the indictment, which identifies the defendant’s employer as “Company A”.  The USDOJ also didn’t reveal the identity of the defendant’s employer.
 
Responding to Samoa News questions, Bumble Bee — a major cannery competitor of StarKist Samoa — confirmed yesterday that Cameron is the company’s vice president of sales and is “currently on paid leave.”
 
The company’s general counsel senior vice president Jill Irvin said Bumble Bee continues to fully cooperate with USDOJ in regard to its ongoing investigation into the packaged seafood industry.
 
“Scott has also cooperated with the company and with the Department of Justice in the investigation. He remains a Bumble Bee employee and is currently on paid leave,” Irvin said in a brief statement, which is identical to the one carried by other mainland news outlets.
 
“The Company is hopeful that it can reach a resolution with DOJ on this matter, as it relates to the Company, in early 2017,” Irvin said. “Because the investigation is ongoing, we cannot provide any additional information or comments on this matter at this time.”
 
In announcing the indictment against Cameron, USDOJ also says that the defendant has agreed to plead guilty for his role in the conspiracy and agreed to pay a criminal fine and cooperate with the division’s ongoing investigation.
 
Electronic court records show that Cameron will have a change of plea hearing Jan. 25, 2017.
 
USDOJ Antitrust Division Acting Assistant Attorney General Renata Hesse said in a news release the indictment against Cameron is the Division’s first case filed in its ongoing investigation of packaged seafood products.
 
“All consumers deserve competitive prices for these important kitchen staples, and companies and executives who cheat those consumers will be held criminally accountable,” Hesse said.
 
FBI San Francisco Division Special Agent in Charge, John F. Bennett added, “These charges demonstrate our continued commitment to investigate and pursue those individuals and companies seeking to victimize consumers through illegal business practices that threaten our community’s ability to pay fair prices for food for their families.”
 
According to the indictment, Cameron and his co-conspirators discussed the prices of packaged seafood sold in the United States and agreed to fix the prices of those products. The defendant and his co-conspirators negotiated prices and issued price announcements for packaged seafood in accordance with the agreements they reached, allege prosecutors.
 
BACKGROUND
 
As previously reported by Samoa News, the USDOJ’s probe into possible violation of the federal antitrust law dealing with manufacturers of packaged seafood products, and this includes canned tuna products, was confirmed by USDOJ in a motion filed early this year at the federal court in San Diego, which was the hearing for some 100 separate civil suits filed against the nation’s major canned tuna producers — including StarKist and its owner Dongwon Industries and its competitor, Chicken of the Sea and its owner Thai Union Ltd. — for conspiring “to fix, raise, maintain, and/or stabilize prices for packaged seafood products” within the United States, its territories and the District of Columbia.
 
The civil right suits have since been consolidated into one case and the USDOJ filed a motion to intervene in the civil cases, allowing the federal government to seek a limited and temporary stay of discovery in the civil cases.
 
Additionally, a federal grand jury, sitting in San Francisco is “investigating potential violations” of the federal Sherman Antitrust Act in the packaged seafood industry. Further, the allegations in the consolidated civil cases also involve violations of the Sherman Act in the packaged seafood industry.
 
The first company which filed the lawsuit against the nation’s major canned food producers, is New York-based Olean Wholesale Grocery Cooperative, which is represented by San Francisco law-firm of Hausfeld LLP.
 
One of the attorneys on court record for Olean is Christopher L. Lebsock, who told Samoa News in February this year that USDOJ had intervened to seek a stay in the civil cases while it conducts its criminal investigation.
 
“Chicken of the Sea reportedly has been cooperating with the USDOJ in exchange for immunity from prosecution,” he said at the time. “Executives found to be ringleaders in any price fixing conspiracy can be criminally prosecuted.”

The Samoa News
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