A jury in the US District Court in San Francisco took just 30 minutes to find former Bumble Bee CEO Chris Lischewski guilty of participating in a conspiracy to fix prices of canned tuna sold in the United States.
Liz Noteware, director of courtroom operations at the US District Court for the Northern District of California told IntraFish in an email that Lischewski was found guilty on one count of price fixing.
Lischewski faces up to 10 years in prison and up to $10 million (€10.2 million) in fines. The sentencing will be conducted at a later date.
In its opening statement, DOJ attorneys said the price-fixing scheme "tears at the very fabric of our free market system."
The DOJ won guilty pleas from several executives and all three of the major companies for taking part in the conspiracy, ordering millions of dollars in fines.
Lischewski’s attorneys opened the trial by telling jurors tuna prices over the alleged period of price-fixing "reflect stiff competition," and that Lischewski was not involved even if a conspiracy did exist.
Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the DOJ Antitrust Division on Tuesday said the decision underscores the agency's commitment to "rooting out collusion."
“The jury’s verdict is a reminder that no one, including members of the C-Suite, is above the law," Delrahim said.
"Executives who conspire to cheat consumers for their own benefit will be held accountable for their illegal conduct.”
2004 - 2010. Defendants shared a common canner in American Samoa, Impress, which is allegedly connected to collusive can size reduction.
2004. Groups colluded to increase prices of canned tuna at least twice.
2006. Groups colluded to increase prices of canned tuna at least once. “By 2007, defendants became more practiced and ambitious in their collusive designs," allegedly downsizing their can size while raising prices.
2007: The NFI created the Tuna Council, whose only members were the defendants, allegedly.
2008. Alleged collusion on price increases on canned tuna.
2010: Defendants allegedly colluded and raised net prices on canned tuna. Net prices are the prices disseminated to brokers of shelf stable seafood products, and represent the list price, less promotional allowances offered by defendants to reduce the list price.
November 2011 - June 2013: Senior executives and sales personnel of the StarKist, Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea allegedly "exchanged emails and had telephone conversations about discounting and promotional practices and terms for the sale of canned tuna to customers." They also allegedly "assured each other that they would not compete regarding the pricing and sale of canned tuna sold to customers."
December 2011 and January 2012: Senior executives and sales personnel of defendants allegedly had telephone conversations "about coordinating and announcing a price increase for a number of products in the second quarter of 2012." Price increases were allegedly "virtually identical" and "other products also increased by identical percentages."
2011 - 2013: StarKist, Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee allegedly told customers certain factors in the tuna sector made it necessary to increase tuna prices. They allegedly "cited their own predictions about where the tuna market was heading as the basis for a price increase."
2012 - July 2015: Defendants and their co-conspirators allegedly agreed to avoid FAD-free tuna.
July 2015: Published reports revealed US Department of Justice convened a grand jury to investigate potential antitrust violations by companies in the market for the production, pricing and/or sale of packaged seafood, including canned tuna.