Bumble Bee pleads guilty for role in price fixing

by Eric Schroeder
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Bumble Bee Tuna
Bumble Bee Foods agreed to plead guilty for its role in a conspiracy to fix the prices of shelf-stable tuna fish.

SAN FRANCISCO — Bumble Bee Foods L.L.C. on May 8 agreed to plead guilty for its role in a conspiracy to fix the prices of shelf-stable tuna fish, such as canned and pouch tuna, sold in the United States, the Department of Justice announced.

In a one-count felony charge filed May 8 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, San Diego-based Bumble Bee and its co-conspirators said they agreed to fix the prices of shelf-stable tuna fish from as early as the first quarter of 2011 through at least as late as the fourth quarter of 2013.

In addition to agreeing to plead guilty, Bumble Bee has agreed to pay a $25 million criminal fine, which will increase to a maximum criminal fine of $81.5 million, payable by a related entity, in the event of a sale of Bumble Bee subject to certain terms and conditions. Additionally, Bumble Bee has agreed to cooperate with the Antitrust Division’s ongoing investigation. The plea agreement is subject to court approval.

“Today’s charge is the third to be filed — and the first to be filed against a corporate defendant — in the Antitrust Division’s ongoing investigation into price fixing among some of the largest suppliers of packaged seafood,” said Andrew Finch, acting assistant attorney general for the D.O.J.’s Antitrust Division. “The division, along with our law enforcement colleagues, will continue to hold these companies and their executives accountable for conduct that targeted a staple in American households.”

Late last year, two executives with Bumble Bee Foods agreed to plead guilty in connection with the conspiracy. Kenneth Worsham, the company’s senior vice-president of trade marketing, agreed to the charge and also agreed to pay a criminal fine and cooperate with the D.O.J.’s ongoing investigation. Mr. Worsham’s guilty plea came two weeks after Walter Scott Cameron, Bumble Bee Foods senior vice-president of sales, agreed to similar charges.

The D.O.J. investigation into the price fixing first came to light in July 2015, when Thai Union, which in 2014 had announced plans to acquire Bumble Bee Foods for $1.5 billion, canceled a share offering upon hearing news that an investigation was under way.
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