StarKist Co. will reportedly plead guilty to price fixing charges in a case of conspiracy in which it together with two competitors colluded to keep canned tuna prices high.
Federal prosecutors on Thursday announced the StarKist plea agreement that includes up to a $100 million fine said one national news agency. In the same plea agreement, a former executive with StarKist and two former executives with Bumble Bee Foods filed guilty pleas to price fixing.
The plea by StarKist comes amidst an investigation by the government of the entire industry of canned tuna that started as long ago as 2015. Bumble Bee and StarKist together with Chicken of the Sea have been accused of colluding to fix tuna prices. The three companies combined hold over 80% of the canned tuna market in the U.S.
In 2017, Bumble Bee filed a plea of guilty to conspiracy in fixing prices in the United States from 2011 to 2013 and paid a fine of $25 million. A week after the plea by Bumble Bee, a Walmart lawsuit alleged the company had been part of a conspiracy with two more tuna canning businesses.
Although three former executives, one with StarKist and two with Bumble Bee filed guilty pleas to price fixing, former CEO of StarKist Chris Lischewski filed a plea of not guilty for the same charges.
In May, Lischewski resigned as the CEO of StarKist after being indicted in the price fixing case, and faces as many as 10 years behind bars if found guilty.
In the indictment, Lischewski is alleged by prosecutors to have knowingly became a part of and participated in the conspiracy, held meetings as well as exchanged data on pricing, sales, demand, supply and production for and with co-conspirators who were unnamed.
Attorneys for Walmart cited industry conferences, phone calls and email in the case against the tuna canning companies.
Despite changes for both supply and demand that should have resulted in lower prices, higher prices were continued to be paid by Walmart for tuna products, says the lawsuit by the retailer.
No charges were filed against Chicken of the Sea, instead it received a conditional leniency as it assisted in the investigation by the Justice Department. That allowed Chicken of the Sea to reach a separate settlement in the Walmart case said one industry insider.
The remaining part of Walmart’s lawsuit is ongoing.