Former Bumble Bee CEO Sentenced in Tuna Price-Fixing Scheme

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The former CEO of Bumble Bee Foods will serve 40 months in jail and pay a $100,000 fine for his role in a tuna fish price-fixing scheme.

Christopher Lischewski spearheaded a scheme with three other executives in the canned fish market to artificially inflate the price of tuna. Federal prosecutors allege that the years-long conspiracy affected $600 million worth of canned fish.

Fishy Prices

Lischewski and his colluders began their scheme in November 2010, and continued to fix prices until December 2013. Like spies in a film noir, the co-conspirators evaded detection by referring to each other in code names, meeting in remote locations, and providing their respective companies with misleading reports on prices.

But authorities became aware of the scheme in 2015 at a time when Bumble Bee Foods was financially struggling. Thai Union Frozen Products, an Asian company that had recently purchased Chicken of the Sea, attempted to acquire Bumble Bee to become a leader in the canned tuna market. Before the merger went through, however, a food wholesaler in New York reported that while the price of raw tuna had dropped, canned-tuna prices stayed the same. The wholesaler filed a lawsuit in California and the scam came to light.

Justice In The Can

Bumble Bee pleaded guilty in 2017 for its role in the scheme and paid a $25 million fine. Later that year, StarKist, another tuna brand involved in the conspiracy, was sentenced to pay $100 million in fines. But when it emerged that Lischewski was the mastermind behind the ploy, prosecutors brought charges against Bumble Bee’s ousted CEO. Lischewski faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine, but got off with 40 months and $100,000.

“Executives who cheat American consumers out of the benefits of competition will be brought to justice,” commented Makan Delrahim, an assistant attorney general for antitrust cases. “Particularly when their antitrust crimes affect the most basic necessity: food.” 

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