Former StarKist tuna exec pleads guilty to price fixing

In this photo taken May 19, 2011, Starkist Tuna products sit on a shelf in a Little Rock, Ark., food warehouse . (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A former StarKist tuna company executive has pleaded guilty in federal court to price-fixing packaged seafood sold in the United States.

Stephen Hodge, a former senior vice president for sales at StarKist Co., entered his plea Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement.

Hodge met with rival industry executives to “fix, raise and maintain the prices” of packaged seafood such as canned tuna, the department said.

Hodge’s lawyer, Steven Kowal, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday.

The criminal charge filed on May 30 reflects broader concerns about competition within the canned tuna industry, federal prosecutors said.

The U.S. government began investigating price-fixing of canned tuna between StarKist, Bumble Bee Foods and Chicken of the Sea more than two years ago.

In May, industry giant Bumble Bee Foods agreed to pay a $25 million fine after pleading guilty to price-fixing. Two of its executives also pleaded guilty for their participation in the conspiracy, the department said.

Bumble Bee general counsel Jill Irvin has said that the company hired a chief compliance officer last fall and recently reformed its guidelines and policies.

Bumble Bee has cooperated with federal prosecutors, Irvin said.

The FBI’s San Francisco office is leading the investigation.

 

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