Second Bumble Bee exec guilty in price-fixing conspiracy

Published on
December 22, 2016

Bumble Bee Seafoods’ senior vice president of trade marketing has pled guilty in a price-fixing conspiracy, the U.S. Department of Justice announced on Wednesday, 21 December.

Ken Worsham becomes the second executive of the canned tuna giant to plead guilty in the widening scandal, following senior vice president of sales Walter Scott Cameron, who pled guilty on 7 December.

According to a filing in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, Worsham pled guilty to a single count of conspiracy, a felony offense. Pending court approval, he will avoid jail time in exchange for paying a criminal fine for an unspecified amount and agreeing to cooperate with the ongoing DOJ investigation.

“The Antitrust Division and its law enforcement partners are once again sending a strong signal that high-ranking executives responsible for fixing the price of shelf-stable tuna must be held accountable,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Renata Hesse of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division said. “We will continue our work to root out the collusion among packaged seafood companies that targeted American consumers.”

According to the court document, Worsham acknowledged he and unnamed co-conspirators agreed to fix the prices of packaged seafood from as early as 2011 until about 2013. Worsham also admitted negotiating prices with competitors and issued price announcements for packaged seafood in accordance with the agreements they reached.

In a statement sent to Reuters, Bumble Bee spokeswoman Jill Irvin said that Worsham had been placed on paid leave, along with Cameron.

"Bumble Bee continues to fully cooperate with the Department of Justice in regards to its ongoing investigation into the packaged seafood industry." Irvin said. "The company continues to remain hopeful that it can reach a resolution with the DOJ on this matter, as it relates to the company, in early 2017."

Worsham did not immediately respond to a telephone call from Reuters seeking comment.

Bumble Bee Foods, along with StarKist and Tri-Union Seafoods, are being sued by a number of U.S. retailers, including Walmart, alleging price-fixing. However, an ongoing federal grand jury investigation has frozen those suits.

The Walmart lawsuit and its previously filed companion suits have shed light on the scandal, revealing in some detail how the “big three” canned tuna suppliers in the U.S. allegedly carried out their scheme.

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