Bumble Bee Foods exec to plead guilty to price fixing

by Eric Schroeder
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Bumble Bee tuna products
Walter Scott Cameron charged in conspiracy to fix prices of packaged seafood.

SAN FRANCISCO — Walter Scott Cameron, senior vice-president of sales at San Diego-based Bumble Bee Foods, L.L.C., has agreed to plead guilty for his role in a conspiracy to fix the prices of packaged seafood such as canned tuna sold in the United States, the Department of Justice said on Dec. 7.

According to a one-count felony charge filed Dec. 7 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, Mr. Cameron and his co-conspirators agreed to fix the prices of packaged seafood from as early as 2011 until about 2013. In addition to his guilty plea, Mr. Cameron has agreed to pay a criminal fine and cooperate with the division’s ongoing investigation, the D.O.J. said.

Renata Hesse
Acting Assistant Attorney General Renata Hesse of the D.O.J.’s Antitrust Division

“Today’s charge is the first to be filed in the Antitrust Division’s ongoing investigation into price fixing among some of the largest suppliers of canned tuna and other packaged seafood,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Renata Hesse of the D.O.J.’s Antitrust Division. “All consumers deserve competitive prices for these important kitchen staples, and companies and executives who cheat those consumers will be held criminally accountable.”

According to the charge, which did not identify Bumble Bee as the company that Mr. Cameron works for, Mr. 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. Mr. Cameron and his co-conspirators then negotiated prices and issued price announcements for packaged seafood in accordance with the agreements they reached, the D.O.J. said.

Bumble Bee Foods said it is cooperating with the D.O.J. and has placed Mr. Cameron on paid leave.

“The company is hopeful that it can reach a resolution with D.O.J. on this matter, as it relates to the company, in early 2017,” said Jill Irvin, general counsel at Bumble Bee.

In December 2014, Thai Union Group P.C.L., owner of Tri-Union Seafoods L.L.C., d/b/a Chicken of the Sea International, entered an agreement to acquire Bumble Bee Foods for $1.51 billion. But in December 2015 the companies abandoned their plans to merge after the D.O.J. informed the companies it had serious concerns that the proposed transaction would harm competition.

Thai Union’s proposed acquisition of Bumble Bee would have combined the second and third largest sellers of shelf-stable tuna in the United States in a market long dominated by three major brands, as well as combined the first and second largest domestic sellers of other shelf-stable seafood products.

William J. Baer
Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer of the department’s Antitrust Division
“Consumers are better off without this deal,” Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer of the department’s Antitrust Division said in December 2015. “Our investigation convinced us — and the parties knew or should have known from the get go — that the market is not functioning competitively today, and further consolidation would only make things worse.” 
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