Ken Worsham, Scott Cameron avoid jail time, concluding tuna price-fixing case sentencings

Former Bumble Bee Foods executives Kenneth Worsham and Walter Scott Cameron were each sentenced to three years’ probation for their roles in a conspiracy to fix the price of canned tuna sold in the United States between 2011 and 2013. 

Both were sentenced by Judge Edward M. Chen of the Northern District of California on Wednesday, 28 April, and both received more lenient sentences than typical for the level of crimes to which they pleaded guilty because they served as key witnesses in the U.S. government’s case against former Bumble Bee Foods CEO Chris Lischewski, who is currently serving a 40-month prison sentence. Former StarKist executive Stephen Hodge also served as a witness in the U.S. government’s case against Lischewski, and received leniency in a non-custodial, probationary sentence issued by Chen in January.

“I do believe the sentence I’m about to impose does send a message of deterrence that you don’t get a free ride in these situations and also, at some level, a message of restorative justice as well,” Chen said in sentencing Worsham, who also received a USD 25,000 (EUR 20,650) fine and 75 hours of mandated community service.

Worsham’s attorneys argued their client deserved leniency because of “his extraordinary acceptance of responsibility – as demonstrated by his actions even before being charged, his substantial assistance to the government, and the myriad of mitigation factors present in his case.”

“Mr. Worsham helped counsel for Bumble Bee because it was the right thing to do. It was a tense and strange time. Mr. Worsham was still employed as an executive at Bumble Bee in San Diego and reported directly to Mr. Lischewski, who was still employed as the President and CEO and sat only a few yards away from Mr. Worsham. Mr. Worsham’s meetings with his own and Bumble Bee’s counsel often took place in a conference room just down the hallway from Mr. Lischewski’s office. This made Mr. Worsham’s decision to help Bumble Bee’s counsel all the more uncomfortable, since throughout this time, it was apparent that unlike Mr. Worsham and other cooperating employees at Bumble Bee, Mr. Lischewski would not be cooperating with the company’s investigation,” they argued in their sentencing recommendation .”This initial cooperation phase lasted over a year and was filled with uncertainty about whether the government would pursue criminal charges against Bumble Bee and any of its employees, including Mr. Worsham. This phase preceded any discussions or even contact between the government and Mr. Worsham’s counsel as to whether Mr. Worsham would be charged and/or plead guilty and cooperate.”

Worsham, who worked as Bumble Bee’s vice president of trade marketing, met with U.S. Department of Justice officials at least 15 times, his attorneys said, and provided them with “perhaps the only piece of tangible evidence at trial: a thumb drive of documents that Mr. Hodge provided him at a dinner the two attended, which were then printed and provided to Mr. Lischewski the next morning.”

“During his interviews with the government, Mr. Worsham provided critical information and evidence against StarKist, Mr. Hodge, and other StarKist employees that could not be obtained from other cooperating witnesses. Mr. Worsham had been the primary point of contact between Bumble Bee and StarKist (via Mr. Hodge, who initiated contact with Mr. Worsham in November 2011 to continue the conspiracy following the departure of Chuck Handford). As such, Mr. Worsham’s cooperation against Mr. Hodge appears to have been a crucial factor in Mr. Hodge’s decision to also plead guilty, and ultimately StarKist’s decision to plead guilty, as well.”

Both Worsham and Cameron were fired by Bumble Bee after their guilty pleas became public, according to sentencing documents. Cameron, who served as Bumble Bee’s senior vice president of sales, had worked on proposed pricing plans with Worsham, where he said in his own testimony that competitive information was discussed “frequently,” “sometimes hourly,” and was the “lifeblood” of the company.

Cameron agreed to become the government’s first witness in the summer of 2015, “as soon as he learned about the government’s investigation into anti-competitive activity in the packaged seafood industry.”

“As Bumble Bee’s general counsel attests, from the very beginning, ‘Scott cooperated fully and quickly’ with the company’s internal investigation,” his attorneys wrote in Cameron’s sentencing guidelines. “Cooperating, at first, through Bumble Bee, Scott ‘provided self-incriminating information that was not yet known to the government.’ Assuming personal risk, Scott shared this information without any assurances he would be ‘eligible to be covered by the non-prosecution provisions of the government’s resolution with Bumble Bee.’ He was focused instead on doing ‘all he could to right the wrongs’ and ‘face his transgression with honesty and forthrightness.’”

Cameron testified that Lischewski “conceived of a ‘peace proposal’ [with StarKist] and ‘ordered’ Scott to broker ‘a truce.’ Scott did so. He reached out to Chuck Handford, a StarKist employee with sales and trade marketing responsibility, and negotiated a ‘ceasefire.’ Handford was a former Bumble Bee employee and close personal friend,” the attorneys wrote. “Throughout 2011, Scott, at Lischewski’s direction, reached agreements with Handford regarding list and net price increases, quarterly guidance, and promotional strategies. Handford left StarKist in September 2011, leaving Scott without a competitor contact with pricing authority. From that point forward, Lischewski directed others to develop competitor contacts and coordinate pricing.”

Cameron’s role as the government’s first cooperating witness was vital to advancing its case, according to his attorneys.

“In a conspiracy case like this, the value of the first mover cannot be understated. Cooperation by one co-conspirator greatly enhances the government’s bargaining position and often influences other conspirators to follow the first cooperator’s lead. Here, Worsham signed his plea agreement a little over a month after Scott had done so. Scott’s continued assistance and valuable information then helped the government achieve a breakthrough in its StarKist investigation leading to guilty pleas from the company and its former senior vice president of sales, Stephen Hodge,” they wrote. “Whether they all would have pled guilty without the information Scott provided is unknown to us. But it is plain that Scott’s cooperation helped the government develop compelling evidence that likely factored into their respective decisions.”

In a statement he read during his sentencing hearing, Cameron tearfully apologized to Bumble Bee customers for his actions.

“Since this entire process started, I have done my best to be truthful and do everything in my power to right the wrongs that have been done,” he said. “I am ashamed of the conduct and the decisions I made, I wish I could take them back, I know that’s impossible.”

Cameron also apologized to his former Bumble Bee coworkers.

“We worked hard during my time there to forge meaningful partnerships and my terrible decisions put all that work in jeopardy,” he said. “I lost my moral compass and I let each one of you down. I had a choice when I faced pressures to collude. I made the wrong choice. I will forever be sorry and ashamed. You all deserved better.”

Photo courtesy of ALDECA studio/Shutterstock


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