Bumble Bee CEO indicted for role in price-fixing scheme

Christopher Lischewski participated in the scheme for three years, according to court documents

A federal grand jury has indicted Christopher Lischewski, president and CEO of San Diego-based Bumble Bee Foods LLC, for taking part in a conspiracy to fix prices of packaged seafood sold in the United States.

According to the one-count felony indictment, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, Lischewski participated in the scheme from about November 2010 until December 2013 by agreeing to fix prices during meetings and in other communications, and subsequently his co-conspirators issued prices and pricing guidance in accordance with those agreements.

Lischewski is the fourth person, and the third from Bumble Bee, to be charged as a result of the continuing federal antitrust investigation of the packaged seafood industry by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco office and the FBI’s San Francisco field office. Executives Walter Scott Cameron and Ken Worsham have already reached plea deals, while the fourth individual, Stephen L. Hodge, formerly an SVP of sales at Pittsburgh-based Starkist, has likewise entered a guilty plea. Bumble Bee itself pleaded guilty last year and been sentenced to pay a criminal fine of at least $25 million.

The investigation has involved the three-called “big three” tuna companies that dominate the U.S. market: Tri-Union Seafoods’ Chicken of the Sea, Bumble Bee Foods LLC and StarKist. The alleged scheme has also spawned a class action joined by such retailers as Walmart, Kroger, Wegmans and Albertsons.

READ: Watchdog raids offices of grocery retailers in price-fixing probe

Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, said it was “committed to prosecuting senior executives who unjustly profit at the expense of their customers. American consumers deserve free enterprise, not fixed prices, so the department will not tolerate crimes like the one charged in today’s indictment.”

“This indictment demonstrates the personal accountability of senior leadership at corporations,” noted agent John F. Bennett. “The FBI and the Department of Justice will hold corporate leaders accountable for criminal actions that defraud American families.”

Though Clover Leaf Seafoods in Canada and Bumble Bee Seafoods are owned by the same company, they operate independently " having autonomous management responsibilities for sales, marketing and financial decision-making," according to a statement provided to CanadianGrocer.com.

"The recent legal actions involving Bumble Bee Seafoods are unrelated to Clover Leaf Seafoods and to the Canadian business. It is worth noting that Clover Leaf products are not sold in the United States and conversely, Bumble Bee branded products are not sold in Canada."

A version of this article appeared at ProgressiveGrocer.com.

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