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Second Bumble Bee executive agrees to plead guilty to conspiring to fix prices

A second senior executive of a US based cannery have been indicted by a federal grand jury and “has agreed to plead guilty” to conspiring to fix the prices of packaged seafood such as canned tuna sold in the United States, the US Justice Department announced yesterday morning and identified the executive by name, but not the employer or the cannery.

The first executive to be charged and agree to plead guilty was Walter Scott Cameron, who was indicted Dec. 7 by the federal grand jury, sitting in San Francisco, which has been conducting a criminal investigation since early this year into packaged seafood products. As previously reported by Samoa News, Cameron is senior vice president of sales for San Diego-based Bumble Bee Food.

Responding to Samoa News questions, Bumble Bee confirmed yesterday that the second executive, Kenneth Worsham, charged by the federal government is the company’s senior vice president of trade.

Bumble Bee general counsel senior vice president Jill Irvin said the company “continues to fully cooperate” with USDOJ in regards to its ongoing investigation into the packaged seafood industry.

“Ken has also cooperated with the Company and with the Department of Justice in the investigation. He remains a Bumble Bee employee and is currently on paid leave,” Irvin said yesterday via email. “The Company continues to remain hopeful that it can reach a resolution with the DOJ on this matter, as it relates to the Company, in early 2017.”

“Because the investigation is ongoing, we cannot provide any additional information or comments on this matter at this time,” she added.

According to a one-count felony charge filed yesterday at the federal court in San Francisco, Worsham and his co-conspirators knowingly entered into and engaged in a combination and conspiracy to fix, raise, and maintain the prices of packaged seafood sold in the US from as early as 2011 until about 2013.

Additionally, the conspiracy engaged in by the defendant and his co-conspirators was a reasonable restraint of interstate commerce in violation of provision of the federal Sherman Antitrust Act. Furthermore, Worsham and his co-conspirators discussed the prices of packaged seafood sold in the United States and agreed to fix the prices of those products.

The defendant and his co-conspirators negotiated prices and issued price announcements for packaged seafood in accordance with the agreements they reached, according to the felony charge, which identifies the defendant’s employer as “Company A”.

USDOJ’s Antitrust Division and its law enforcement partners “are once again sending a strong signal that high-ranking executives responsible for fixing the price of shelf-stable tuna must be held accountable,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Renata Hesse of USDOJ Antitrust Division.

“We will continue our work to root out the collusion among packaged seafood companies that targeted American consumers,” Hesse said in the USDOJ news release, which also says that the defendant has agreed to plead guilty to the charge as well as pay a criminal fine and cooperate with USDOJ’s ongoing investigation.

An online federal court record does not yet show an attorney for the defendant. It also doesn’t say as to when the defendant will appear in court for a plea hearing.

Court documents state that maximum penalties for a person convicted of price fixing is 10 years in prison, a $1 million fine (or two times the gross gain or loss, which ever is greater), three years of supervised release and any court ordered restitution.