CCC’s: I Know this Looks Bad, But…..

When I was a kid, there were times when it looked like I was in big trouble, but was able to talk my way out of it.  “Mom, I know this looks bad, but ….”  (Probably I did do it, but it was good practice for being a lawyer.)  There are times when even the most ethical companies can “look” like they may have violated the antitrust laws.  And it may not be as simple as explaining to Mom why things aren’t the way they look.  That “splaining” may take years of costly litigation, even for a defendant that hasn’t done anything wrong.  That is why antitrust/competition law compliance training is important, even for companies that have the highest ethical standards.  Not only is it important to not violate the law, but it is import to know how to communicate the pro-competitive merits of actions in the marketplace and to document why decisions were made.

Let me give one example.  In a commodity market with few sellers, it is natural that prices are going to be similar, if not identical.  If a company’s pricing is above the market in a commodity, their sales will suffer.  But, there is a thin line between “conscious parallelism” and price fixing.  A communication to customers such as this may be the hook to suggest sellers have crossed the line:  “The X industry has not been profitable and as of March 1 our prices will increase 5%.  This is in line with the increases of the other producers in the industry who are also going up.”  The company may be trying to communicate that they are only doing what others are doing to “stay competitive.”  But, referring to “industry pricing” gives the hint of collusion–enough of a hint to possibly draw an antitrust suit.  Much better to simply write:  “We have experienced increases in the cost of several major inputs.  Regrettably, we find it necessary to increase our prices 5% as of March 1.”  And there should be a document in the file explaining the need for the price increase.

To be clear, the first email does not establish that price fixing has occurred.  But, it may be enough,along with other evidence,  to give potential plaintiffs enough to file a case and result in a settlement to avoid costly litigation.  And, while no policies can guarantee a company will never be sued, an educated sales force will greatly lessen that likelihood.

The above is just one example. On January 19, 2016 from 1:00 to 2:15 pm I will be giving a presentation for Clear Law Institute on “Avoiding the Creation of “Hot” Antitrust Documents.”  I will talk about risk assessment for antitrust lawsuits and how to avoid creating the appearance of anticompetitive conduct, while documenting the pro-competitive reasons for activity in the market place.  The announcement/registration for the program is here.   There is a 35% off discount code you can use if you’d like to register: connolly35

Please check it out and see if it might be useful to your organization.   There will be slides that you may want to later  distribute as part of an antitrust compliance program.

Thanks for reading.

CCC’s: New Zealand Decides Against Criminal Sanctions for Price Fixing

A news article from the Manawatu Standard in New Zealand reports that “Price-fixing executives will not be subject to jail terms after Government u-turn.”  Paul Goldsmith, the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs said he was stripping criminal sanctions for cartel behavior currently contained in the Commerce (Cartels and Other Matters) Amendment Bill.  He said that after a year of consideration he had made an “on balance decision” that the costs of introducing criminal penalties outweighed the benefits.

The Minister said “If we keep providing new ways for directors to go to prison if the judgements are wrong then overall there’s a potential chilling effect on innovation.”  New Zealand’s decision is counter to the trend toward criminalization of cartel behavior, although in many countries criminal penalties, while available, are rarely imposed.  Countries that do impose criminal penalties, such as the United States, reserve criminal prosecution for “hard-core” cartel conduct (price-fixing; bidding rigging) where there is an element of fraud: i.e. buyers (or sellers) believe there is competition when in fact competition has been reduced or eliminated by a secret agreement among the bidders/vendors.  These types of secret cartel arrangements are deemed to have no pro-competitive benefit as opposed to joint ventures where entities share risk, resources and the buyer can independently weigh the merits of contracting with the joint entity.

The full Manawatu Standard article can be found here.

CCC’s: An Update On the Airlines Price Fixing Civil Suits

A while back I posted “They Said What?:  Some Compliance Thoughts on the Airline Price Fixing Investigation.”  The post examined how some loose talk by airline executives had led to a federal price-fixing investigation–followed immediately by an avalanche of civil treble damage price-fixing suits.  At a recent trade association meeting, multiple airline executives spoke publicly about their plans to be “disciplined” in their approach to pricing and adding extra flights on popular routes.  Cue up an Antitrust Division investigation, followed in nano seconds by a torrent of private class action treble damage price-fixing cases.  The airline executives may have gotten by unnoticed with their ill-advised comments, except they spoke at a time when the flying public was less than enchanted with the flying experience, including ticket prices that seemed sky-high while the price of fuel was nose diving.  My sense was that it was this environment–a disgruntled public and therefore unhappy Congress folks rather than any hard evidence of price-fixing–that caused the Antitrust Division to decide it was a good idea to at least open an investigation.

I’ve been reading the public news about this investigation and the civil cases and a couple of things caught my eye.  First, a recent report stated that 75 civil suits have now been filed against American, Delta, Southwest and United since July.  The suits tend to be copy cat suits filed by different law firms seeking a good seat (with extra leg room for a fee) at the litigation table when the suits are consolidated.  In the first suit “Plaintiffs allege that defendants illegally signaled to each other how quickly they would add new flights, routes, and extra seats. To keep prices high on fares, it was undesirable for the defendants to increase capacity.”  Other suits are similar.

This avalanche of civil suits doesn’t speak highly of our current class action system.  The airlines have not been convicted of anything, nor have they even been charged by the Antitrust Division.  It is not illegal for a company to try to boost profits by restricting capacity.  Or raising prices.  The key question is whether the action was taken unilaterally (legal) or in collusion with competitors (illegal).  Parallel prices alone are not enough to prove an agreement.  There has to be more.  See  “Getting the Judge to Budge from Conceivable to Plausible Under Twombly.”  But, even if a company is exonerated, the litigation is very expensive; much more so than a good antitrust education/compliance program.

Another interesting fact just out is that airline ticket prices last month saw the largest monthly decline on 20 years.   “Airline fares recorded their steepest monthly decline in 20 years, falling 5.6 percent last month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”  Does this mean the airlines can can get out from under all the civil suits?  Not likely.  The plaintiffs may spin this as the inevitable collapse of a cartel that couldn’t prop up prices forever in the face of sharply decreased costs.  The airlines will point out that capacity increases that led to the lower prices were in the works for months–at the very time the plaintiffs allege there was collusion.  Both sides will have experts armed with other arguments, analysis and data to support their side.  Whatever the experts say, it won’t come cheaply.  But, right now airfares may, so time to book a flight.

Thanks for reading.

Second Circuit Affirms Apple’s Liability for Per Se Unlawful E-Book Price-Fixing Conspiracy

Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division released the following statement today after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruling in United States v. Apple Inc.:

“We are gratified by the court’s decision.  The decision confirms that it is unlawful for a company to knowingly participate in a price-fixing conspiracy, whatever its specific role in the conspiracy or reason for joining it.  Because Apple and the defendant publishers sought to eliminate price competition in the sale of e-books, consumers were forced to pay higher prices for many e-book titles.

“I am proud of the outstanding work done by the trial team who initially established Apple’s liability and by the lawyers who defended the district court’s decision in this appeal.  The Antitrust Division will continue to vigorously protect competition and enforce the antitrust laws in this important business, and in other industries that affect the everyday lives of consumers.”


On April 11, 2012, the department filed a civil antitrust lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against Apple, Hachette Book Group (USA), HarperCollins Publishers L.L.C., Holtzbrinck Publishers LLC (which does business as Macmillan), Penguin Group (USA) Inc. and Simon & Schuster Inc. for conspiring to end e-book retailers’ freedom to compete on price by taking control of pricing from e-book retailers and substantially increasing the prices that consumers paid for e-books.

At the same time that it filed the lawsuit, which was consolidated with suits brought by 33 states and territories, the department reached settlements with three of the publishers – Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster.  Those settlements were approved by the court in September 2012.  The department settled with Penguin on Dec. 18, 2012, and with Macmillan on Feb. 8, 2013.  The Penguin settlement was approved by the court in May 2013 and the Macmillan settlement was approved in August 2013.  Under the settlements, each publisher was required (a) to terminate agreements that prevented e-book retailers from lowering the prices at which they sell e-books to consumers and (b) to allow for retail price competition in renegotiated e-book distribution agreements.

The department’s trial against Apple, which was overseen by U.S. District Judge Denise L. Cote of the Southern District of New York, began on June 3, 2013.  The trial lasted for three weeks, with closing arguments taking place on June 20, 2013.  Judge Cote issued her opinion and order on July 10, 2013, finding Apple liable for knowingly participating in and facilitating a conspiracy with the publishers.  On Sept. 5, 2013, Judge Cote entered a final judgment prohibiting Apple from immediately reestablishing e-book distribution agreements with the defendant publishers similar to the agreements that were established through the conspiracy and from entering e-book distribution agreements containing most-favored-nations provisions; requiring Apple to adopt a rigorous antitrust compliance program; and imposing an external compliance monitor to evaluate and recommend improvements to Apple’s antitrust compliance and training programs.

Five School Bus Owners Indicted for Bid-Rigging and Fraud Conspiracies at Puerto Rico Public School Bus Auction

A federal grand jury in San Juan, Puerto Rico, returned an indictment against five individuals for participating in bid rigging and fraud conspiracies at an auction for public school bus transportation contracts in Puerto Rico’s Caguas municipality, the Department of Justice announced today.

A seven-count felony indictment was filed yesterday in U.S. District Court of the District of Puerto Rico in San Juan against five bus transportation company owners: Gavino Rivera-Herrera, Luciano Vega-Martínez, Alfonso Gonzales-Nevarez, José L. Arroyo-Quiñones and René Garay-Rodríguez.

Count one charges the bus owners with participating in a conspiracy to rig bids and allocate the market for public school bus transportation services in the Caguas municipality.  The second count charges the bus owners with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and counts three through seven charge the bus owners with committing mail fraud.  According to the indictment, the defendants and others defrauded, and conspired to defraud, the Puerto Rico Department of Education and the Caguas municipality, among others, in order to fraudulently obtain contracts for school bus transportation services.

These charges relate to a 2013 Caguas municipality auction, at which four-year contracts for public school bus transportation were awarded.  The indictment alleges that the defendants participated in the charged offenses from around August 2013 until at least May 2015.

“The defendants are charged with depriving taxpayers, the Municipality of Caguas and the Puerto Rico Department of Education of the benefits of a competitive bidding process for school bus contracts,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.  “This is unacceptable.  The Division will continue its efforts to protect U.S. citizens across the country and hold accountable those who subvert competition.”

“Today’s case is the latest in our ongoing efforts to investigate and prosecute financial crimes, one of the priorities of the Department of Justice,” said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez of the District of Puerto Rico.  “These arrests serve as a reminder that federal law enforcement agencies intend to vigorously prosecute those who manipulate the economic system to enrich themselves at the expense of the government.”

“Price fixing victimizes the consumer which in this case are the honest, hardworking and tax paying citizens living in Puerto Rico,” said Special Agent in Charge Carlos Cases of the FBI’s San Juan Division.  “Let there be no doubt, the FBI, along with law enforcement partners, will continue to investigate, charge and prosecute any individuals involved in these type of acts.”

The bus owners are charged with bid rigging and market allocation in violation of the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $1 million criminal fine for individuals.  The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater than $1 million.  Each count of mail fraud, and conspiracy to commit mail fraud, carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

This is the first case resulting from an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in Puerto Rico’s school bus transportation services industry.  This investigation is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal I Section, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Puerto Rico, the FBI’s Puerto Rico Field Office and the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General.  Anyone with information in connection with this investigation is urged to call the Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal I Section at 202-307-6694, visit or call the FBI’s Puerto Rico Field Office at 787-754-6000.

CCC’s: Supreme Court Declines to Take up FTAIA Appeals

The Supreme Court has declined to hear the appeal from the Ninth Circuit decision affirming the convictions of AU Optronics and its executives in the TFT-LCD price-fixing cartel.  The Court also declined to review the Seventh Circuit case of Motorola Mobility where the Seventh Circuit dismissed civil damages claims for price-fixing purchases made by Motorola’s foreign subsidiaries from the same cartel.   Reuters story here.

In an April 9th blog post, I had opined that the Supreme Court would not hear either of the appeals because a): each case was decided correctly, and b) there was no conflict between the Ninth and Seventh Circuits on the application of the FTAIA. (here).  On May 15th, the DOJ filed a brief opposing the cert. petitions of AU Optronics and Motorola. (here)

I have no doubt that the Supreme Court will eventually be addressing the FTAIA. But, neither of these cases were the appropriate vehicle to do so.


WASHINGTON — Minebea Co. Ltd., a small sized bearings manufacturer based in Nagano, Japan, has agreed to plead guilty and to pay a $13.5 million criminal fine for its role in a conspiracy to fix prices for small sized ball bearings sold to customers in the United States and elsewhere, the Department of Justice announced today.

According to a one-count felony charge filed today in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio in Cincinnati, Minebea conspired to fix the prices of small sized ball bearings in the United States and elsewhere.  In addition to the criminal fine, Minebea has agreed to cooperate in the department’s ongoing investigation.  The plea agreement is subject to court approval.

According to the charge, Minebea and its co-conspirator discussed and agreed upon prices to be submitted to small sized ball bearings customers.  Minebea’s participation in the conspiracy lasted from at least as early as early-to-mid 2008 and continued until at least October 2011.

“Because of the unlawful price-fixing by the defendant and its co-conspirators, American businesses paid more for small-sized bearings than they otherwise would,” said Bill Baer, Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  “Working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and our other law enforcement partners, the Antitrust Division will continue our efforts to ensure American businesses and consumers benefit from competitive markets.”

“Any agreement that restricts price competition violates the law,” said U.S. Attorney Carter Stewart of Southern District of Ohio.  “We will continue to work to protect consumers’ right to free and open competition.”

Bearings are used in industry in numerous products to reduce friction and help parts roll smoothly past one another; they “bear” the load.  Small sized ball bearings are those ball bearings whose outside diameter is 26 millimeters or less.

Minebea is charged with price fixing in violation of the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum penalty of a $100 million criminal fine for corporations.  The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory maximum fine.

The charge today is the result of an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in the bearings industry, which is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s Chicago Office and the FBI’s Cincinnati Field Office.  Anyone with information on price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct related to the bearings industry should contact the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 1-888-647-3258, visit, or call the FBI’s Cincinnati Field Office at 513-421-4310.

Is the Antitrust Division Starting a Broad Investigation of Price Fixing in the Generic Pharmaceuticals Market?

Ed. Note:  This post is by Joan Marshall, a partner at GeyerGorey and a former Antitrust Division prosecutor who worked on the global vitamin cartel prosecutions.


Last month, Elijah E. Cummings, the [then] ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Senator Bernard Sanders, [then] chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, asked 14 generic drug makers to provide data concerning escalating prices charged for generic pharmaceuticals. (here)  Several recent articles, and filings with the SEC, report that the Antitrust Division is also taking a hard look at the generic pharmaceutical industry (here);(here);(here).

A recent analysis found that half of all generic drugs sold through retailers became more expensive over the past 12 months and the prices paid by pharmacies more than doubled for one out of 11 generics (here)(here). The FDA reports that nearly 8 in 10 prescriptions are filled with generic pharmaceuticals. Americans spent about $325.8 billion on prescription medicines in 2012 (here).  Generics now account for 28 percent of pharmaceutical spending (here).

* * * * * Click Here for the Rest of the Story* * * * *

Two Executives of Japanese Automotive Parts Manufacturers Indicted for Their Role in a Conspiracy to Fix Prices and Rig Bids

A Kentucky federal grand jury returned a one-count indictment against two executives of Japanese automotive parts manufacturers for their participation in a conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids of bearings, the Department of Justice announced today.

The indictment, filed late yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky in Covington, charges Hiroya Hirose an executive at NSK Ltd., and Masakazu Iwami an executive at Jtekt Corporation, with conspiring to fix the prices of bearings sold to Toyota Motor Corporation and Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America Inc. (collectively, “Toyota”) in the United States and elsewhere, beginning at least as early as 2001 and continuing until as late as July 2011.

“The division will continue to pursue executives who violate the antitrust laws,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer for the Antitrust Division.  “American consumers deserve the benefit of free competition between auto parts suppliers.”

Hirose was a group sales manager in NSK’s Mid-Japan Automotive Department Office from at least as early as January 2006 until at least 2009, and a general manager in that office from 2009 until at least 2011.  Iwami was a Section Manager, then General Manager, in Jtekt’s Toyota Branch office from at least as early as 1999 until at least October 2007, and then Vice Branch Manager in that office from October 2007 until at least June 2009.

The indictment alleges, among other things, that Hirose, Iwami, and co-conspirators participated in, and directed, authorized, or consented to the participation of subordinate employees in, meetings, conversations, and communications to discuss the bids and price quotations to be submitted to Toyota in the United States and elsewhere.  Hirose, Iwami, and their co-conspirators submitted bids and price quotations in accordance with the agreements reached at these meetings.

NSK is a corporation organized and existing under the laws of Japan with its principal place of business in Tokyo, Japan.  On Oct. 28, 2013, NSK pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a $68.2 million criminal fine for its role in the conspiracy.  Jtekt is a corporation organized and existing under the laws of Japan with its registered headquarters in Osaka, Japan.  On Dec. 3, 2013, Jtekt pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a $103.27 million criminal fine for its role in the conspiracy.  Both NSK and Jtekt were engaged in the business of manufacturing and selling bearings to Toyota in the United States and elsewhere for installation in vehicles manufactured and sold in the United States and elsewhere.

Including Hirose and Iwami, 46 individuals have been charged in the government’s ongoing investigation into market allocation, price fixing, and bid rigging in the auto parts industry.  Twenty-six of these individuals have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced to serve prison terms ranging from a year and one day to two years.  Additionally, 31 companies have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty and have agreed to pay a total of now more than $2.4 billion in fines.

Hirose and Iwami are charged with price fixing and bid rigging in violation of the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million criminal fine for individuals.  The maximum fine for an individual may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory maximum fine.

Yesterday’s indictment is the result of an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in the automotive parts industry, which is being conducted by four of the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement sections and the FBI.  Today’s charge was brought by the Antitrust Division’s Chicago Office and the FBI’s Cincinnati Field Office.  Anyone with information on price fixing, bid rigging, and other anticompetitive conduct related to other products in the automotive parts industry should contact the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 1-888-647-3258, visit, or call the FBI’s Cincinnati Field Office at 513-421-4310.

Robert E. Connolly Launches New Blog: “Cartel Capers:”

Robert E. ConnollyGeyer Gorey Partner Robert E. Connolly Announces the Debut of A New Blog: “Cartel Capers:”

Robert Connolly recently joined GeyerGorey LLP as a partner in its Washington DC office. As with other GeyerGorey “former feds,” Mr. Connolly was a career federal prosecutor in the Antitrust Division. He was Chief of the Middle Atlantic Office of the Antitrust Division from 1994 until early 2013. Mr. Connolly has just launched his blog, Cartel Capers.

While at the Division, and particularly as a senior manager as Chief, Mr. Connolly had a seat at the table as the Division developed and implemented its successful leniency program.   He also had input on all major aspects of policy and procedure in the criminal program such as investigative strategies, charging decisions, trial game plans, sentencing policy issues, and extradition.   Since leaving the Division, Mr. Connolly has been a prolific author writing a number of articles for the ABA Criminal Cartel and Procedure committee, Mlex and Law 360. He has been quoted on cartel issues in Forbes, BusinessWeek, and various trade publications that focus on antitrust. He has decided to try his hand at blogging to provide more real time news, insight and analysis.

The blog, Cartel Capers, will provide current news in the cartel world. The focus will be on matters concerning the Antitrust Division, US Department of Justice, but will also cover major cartel related developments in the civil arena as well as worldwide. Besides reporting current developments, the aim of the blog is to provide insight and perspective from someone who worked at a high level in the Division for most of his career. The blog will analyze what the Division said, and what it did not say; what the Division did, and what it did not do—and what the Division is likely to do in the future. In short, the blog is intended to provide a behind the scenes look at the cartel world based on both personal experience and current contacts in the enforcement and broader antitrust community.

The blog will be enriched by contributions from other career DOJ prosecutors now at GeyerGorey. Hays Gorey, Joan Marshall and Brad Geyer will contribute both as editors and guest bloggers. Each has prosecuted a variety of high profile cartel cases and related violations in their long careers with the Division.

Please give Cartel Capers a try. Hopefully you will benefit form reading the blog and look forward to new entries. Also, any feedback or suggestions to make the blog more useful are most welcome. Cartel Capers: