Bumble Bee tuna pleads guilty to heaping helping of price-fix

A major brand of canned tuna has been caught fixing prices that cost consumers more at the store.

Bumble Bee Foods LLC has agreed to pay at least a $25 million criminal fine and plead guilty for its role in a conspiracy to fix the prices of canned and pouch tuna, the U.S. Department of Justice said Monday.

Bumble Bee and its co-conspirators agreed to fix the prices of shelf-stable tuna from 2011 through 2013, according to a one-count felony charge filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

The company agreed to pay a $25 million criminal fine, which will increase to a maximum criminal fine of $81.5 million, payable by a “related entity,” in the event of a sale of Bumble Bee, officials said.

“Today’s charge is the third to be filed – and the first to be filed against a corporate defendant – in the Antitrust Division’s ongoing investigation into price fixing among some of the largest suppliers of packaged seafood,” said acting assistant attorney general Andrew Finch of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “The division, along with our law enforcement colleagues, will continue to hold these companies and their executives accountable for conduct that targeted a staple in American households.”

Bumble Bee said in a statement that it had “fully cooperated” with the Justice Department, Reuters reported.

“We have established strong guidelines and new internal policies for our path forward, which is being overseen by a chief compliance officer that we hired last fall,” said General Counsel Jill Irvin.

“Companies small and large hold a great deal of the American peoples’ trust and this type of unfair, greedy behavior will not be tolerated.” said John F. Bennett, special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Francisco division.

Federal officials said anyone with information on price fixing, bid rigging or other anti-competitive conduct related to the packaged seafood industry should contact the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at (888) 647-3258, visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.html, or call the FBI tip line at (415) 553-7400.

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