SAN FRANCISCO — A former CEO of Bumble Bee Foods has been sentenced to more than three years in jail for his role in a canned tuna price-fixing conspiracy involving three major companies, the U.S. Justice Department said.
Christopher Lischewski was also ordered Tuesday to pay a $100,000 fine in addition to serving a 40-month term.
Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim said in a statement that the sentence will serve as a deterrent to wrongdoing at top corporate levels.
“Executives who cheat American consumers out of the benefits of competition will be brought to justice, particularly when their antitrust crimes affect the most basic necessity, food,” Delrahim said.
A federal grand jury in San Francisco indicted Lischewski in May 2018. He pleaded not guilty but late last year a jury convicted him of a single count of participating in a conspiracy to fix prices of canned tuna.
The Justice Department said the court found that the three-year conspiracy affected hundreds of millions of dollars in canned tuna sales.
Bumble Bee pleaded guilty and was sentenced to pay a $25 million fine and StarKist Co. was fined $100 million.
Three executives who were charged along with Lischewski pleaded guilty and testified at his trial.
The scheme came to light after the failure of an attempt by Thai Union Group’s Chicken to buy San Diego-based Bumble Bee in 2015, according to court records.
Chicken of the Sea executives then alerted federal investigators, who agreed to shield the company from criminal prosecution in exchange for cooperation.
The Justice Department said its San Francisco antitrust division and the FBI are continuing to investigate the packaged-seafood industry and are seeking any information on anti-competitive conduct including price-fixing and bid-rigging.