Former Starkist Senior Vice President of Sales Stephen L. Hodge has pled guilty to fixing the prices of canned tuna in the United States and faces up to 10 years in prison and a USD 1 million (EUR 876,000) fine.
Hodge was charged in early June and became the third executive from the tuna industry to plead guilty in the price-fixing scandal, which is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Previously, Bumble Bee executives Kenneth Worsham and Walter Scott Cameron pled guilty in the conspiracy, as has Bumble Bee Foods, which agreed to pay a USD 25 million (EUR 22.8 million) fine.
A Department of Justice press release said the price-fixing investigation is continuing into collusion between the so-called “big three” tuna companies – Thai Union-owned Tri-Union Seafoods, which controls Chicken of the Sea; StarKist, owned by Dongwon Industries; and Bumble Bee Foods.
“With today’s plea, the Antitrust Division continues to send a strong signal that senior executives will be held accountable for their actions,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Andrew Finch said. “The division, along with our law enforcement colleagues, will continue to investigate price fixing among packaged seafood companies and the executives who worked at those companies.”
Between 2011 and 2013, Hodge and his co-conspirators discussed the prices of packaged seafood sold in the United States and agreed to fix the prices of those products, court documents allege. The documents state that Hodge and his co-conspirators negotiated prices and issued price announcements for packaged seafood in accordance with the agreements they reached.
The Justice Department said Hodge has agreed to pay a criminal fine and cooperate with the ongoing investigation. Along with Worsham and Cameron, Hodge will be sentenced at a later date, tentatively scheduled for October 2017.
“The FBI will not tolerate the reprehensible behavior of company executives who abuse the trust of the American public for personal gain,” FBI San Francisco Division Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett said. “We, along with our Justice Department partners, are dedicated to our ongoing investigations into price fixing and will bring these companies to justice.”