The CEO of Bumble Bee Foods faces up to 10 years in prison on charges he conspired to illegally set prices on canned tuna in the United States.
A federal grand jury on Wednesday 16 May indicted Christopher Lischewski on a single count of price fixing. He is scheduled to be arraigned on 29 May in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, California.
According to the indictment, Lischewski “knowingly joined and participated” in a conspiracy to suppress and eliminate competition by fixing prices on packaged seafood sold in America. He and other unnamed co-conspirators held meetings and exchanged information on not just pricing data but sales, supply, demand, and production.
In order to hide their work, prosecutors allege Lischewski and others used code words when referring to other parties in the conspiracy. They also met at “offsite locations” to keep from being identified, and provided misleading reasons for pricing. The illegal activities allegedly started around November 2010 and continued for more than three years, according to the Department of Justice.
“The Antitrust Division is committed to prosecuting senior executives who unjustly profit at the expense of their customers,” Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division said. “American consumers deserve free enterprise, not fixed prices, so the Department will not tolerate crimes like the one charged in today’s indictment.”
John Keker, an attorney for Lischewski released a statement to the Associated Press that his client “will be found not guilty, and that vindication will rightfully restore his good name.”
Lischewski is the fourth person to be charged in the ongoing investigation run by Justice and FBI officials in San Francisco. He’s also the third from Bumble Bee. Walter Cameron and Ken Worsham have already reached plea agreements for their roles in the scheme. Both are scheduled to be sentenced in September.
The company itself also pleaded guilty in May 2017 to fixing the price of canned tuna between 2011 and 2013. In exchange for cooperating in the Department of Justice’s investigation, the company received a reduction in its fine to USD 25 million (EUR 22.8 million), down from a maximum potential fine of as much as USD 272.4 million (EUR 234 million).
Last month, Lischewski was removed as a defendant in an ongoing antitrust civil suit filed by numerous grocers and other retailers against the “big three” tuna companies: Bumble Bee, StarKist, and Tri-Union Seafoods, which controls Chicken of the Sea.
In addition to prison time, if Lischewski is found guilty in the criminal case, he also faces a fine of up to USD 1 million (EUR 848,611) and a period of supervised release for no more than three years.