According to a statement by the DOJ, Bumble Bee colluded to increase tuna prices from 2011 through 2013. The maximum criminal fine could reach as much as $81.5 million, if the company is sold, the agency said.
The charges brought against Bumble Bee state that representatives from the company attended meetings with counterparts at other seafood companies to implement a conspiracy to maintain shelf-stable tuna prices at artificially high levels.
The investigation resulted from several private lawsuits brought against accused Bumble Bee, StarKist Co. and Tri-Union Seafoods LLC, doing business as Chicken of the Sea, that claimed the companies colluded to fix the prices of their packaged tuna products in the US. Walmart, the largest grocer in the US, filed a suit in October, claiming the companies began price-fixing beginning sometime between 2008 and 2010, ending in July 2015.
The DOJ filed its first charges in December after an investigation of Walter Scott Cameron, a vice president of Bumble Bee, resulted in his pleading guilty to allegations that he participated in the conspiracy to fix seafood prices in the US. Cameron has served as Bumble Bee’s senior vice president of sales since May 2007. Shortly after that, Kenneth Worsham, a senior vice president of trade marketing at the company, also agreed to a guilty plea.
Class actions alleging price fixing of tuna products have been consolidated in the Southern District of California. Earlier this year, the judge overseeing the multidistrict litigation dismissed claims regarding other packaged seafood but allowed tuna price-fixing allegations to go ahead.
The DOJ did not name the other members of the conspiracy.
The case is U.S. v. Bumble Bee Foods LLC, case number 17-cr-249, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.