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According to a Department of Justice press release, on May 16, 2018 a federal grand jury returned an indictment against Christopher Lischewski, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Bumble Bee Foods LLC, for participating in a conspiracy to fix prices for packaged seafood sold in the United States. The indictment was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, and charged Lischewski with participating in a conspiracy to fix prices of packaged seafood beginning in or about November 2010 until December 2013.
The one-count felony indictment charges that Lischewski carried out the conspiracy by agreeing to fix the prices of packaged seafood during meetings and other communications. The co-conspirators issued price announcements and pricing guidance in accordance with these agreements.
An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed. Mr. Lischewski is presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The government’s full press release can be found here. Mr. Lischewski’s is represented by John Keker of Keker, Van Nest & Peters LLP, who said in a statement (as reported by Law 360 here) that his client will be found not guilty:
“Chris Lischewski is a decent and honorable man, who has lived a hardworking and ethical life. He has been a leader and beacon within the seafood industry for more than twenty-five years. And most significantly on this dark day, he is innocent of any wrongdoing.”
Bumble Bee has already pled guilty and agreed to pay a $25 million fine. The Lischewski indictment demonstrates that the Antitrust Division seeks to maximize deterrence by holding individuals accountable for criminal antitrust violations. The Division seeks to indict the highest level executive they believe is justified by the evidence.
The indictment can be found here. I have no personal knowledge of the facts of this case other than from reading the public documents. The indictment doesn’t specify whether the defendant personally attended meetings and reached agreements or whether Bumble Bee subordinates did so at his direction or with his knowledge/approval. Trials against CEO’s can be challenging because conviction often depends on the jury accepting the testimony of lower level officials at the company who may have gotten immunity or favorable plea agreements in return for their testimony. A plea agreement with the defendant is always possible, but a trial is far more likely given the probable high sentencing guidelines range the defendant would be facing and the unlikely possibility that he would be eligible for a downward departure for cooperation at this late stage of the investigation.
Thanks for reading.