SAN FRANCISCO — StarKist Co. was ordered to pay a $100 million fine for its role in a price-fixing scheme for canned tuna sold in the United States between 2011 to 2013. The fine is the statutory maximum, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The seafood processor pled guilty to one count of price-fixing in October 2018 and had requested a fine reduction, arguing that the company does not have the financial resources to pay the $100 million criminal fine. On Sept. 11, U.S. District Judge Edward M. Chen found that the Pittsburgh-based company had not proven that its financial circumstances justified a lower criminal fine.
“The consequences for greedy companies who cheat the marketplace and American consumers are significant and clear,” said Federal Bureau of Investigation San Francisco Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett. “The F.B.I., along with our law enforcement colleagues, will continue to pursue those who conspire to fix prices and bring them to justice.”
In addition to the fine, StarKist has agreed to cooperate in the D.O.J.’s ongoing investigation.
“StarKist is committed to being a socially responsible company and doing the right thing,” said Andrew Choe, president and chief executive officer of StarKist. “We have cooperated with the D.O.J. during the course of its investigation and accept responsibility. We will continue to conduct our business with the utmost transparency and integrity. We have addressed the necessary actions required in this agreement and we will continue to strengthen related compliance best practices.”
A total of six charges has resulted from an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into the packaged-seafood industry. StarKist is the second seafood processor to plead guilty of price fixing. In 2017, Bumble Bee Foods L.L.C., San Diego, pled guilty for its role in the scheme. The company agreed to pay a criminal fine of $25 million.
In May 2018, Christopher Lischewski, then the president and c.e.o. of Bumble Bee, was indicted for conspiracy to fix prices. He later stepped down from his position.