By Peter Reap, J.D., LL.M.
The canned tuna purveyor failed to show that its financial circumstances justified a lower fine—"sorry, Charlie."
The federal district court in San Francisco has ordered StarKist Co. to pay a criminal fine of $100 million, the statutory maximum, for its role in a conspiracy to fix prices for canned tuna sold in the United States, the Department of Justice has announced. StarKist was also sentenced to a 13-month term of probation. StarKist pleaded guilty in October of 2018 for its part in the conspiracy (U.S. v. StarKist Co., Case 3:18-cr-00513-EMC).
According to the one-count felony information that had been filed with the court, StarKist participated in a conspiracy to fix the prices of canned tuna fish from as early as November 2011 through at least as late as December 2013.The conspiracy was an unreasonable restraint of interstate commerce in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
As part of the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Edward M. Chen found that StarKist had not proven that its financial circumstances justified a lower criminal fine. The Justice Department’s Antitrust Division opposed StarKist’s request for a fine reduction, arguing that StarKist had sufficient financial resources to pay a $100 million criminal fine. In addition to the criminal fine and term of probation, StarKist has also agreed to cooperate in the Antitrust Division’s ongoing investigation.
"Today’s result demonstrates our commitment to enforcing the antitrust laws aggressively against companies that fix prices," said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. "Hard-working Americans deserve the benefits of open competition when they spend their hard-earned money on items that stock kitchen shelves. When a corporation cheats customers at the checkout line, the Antitrust Division will hold it accountable to the greatest extent."
"StarKist is committed to being a socially responsible company and doing the right thing. We have cooperated with the DOJ during the course of its investigation and accept responsibility," said Andrew Choe, President & CEO of StarKist in a statement. "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."
StarKist was the second company to admit to its involvement in the conspiracy. In May 2017, Bumble Bee Foods LLC agreed to plead guilty to a similar charge.
Companies: StarKist Co.; Bumble Bee Foods LLC
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