A federal judge in San Francisco on Wednesday ordered StarKist Co. to pay a $100 million fine in a canned tuna price-fixing conspiracy involving the industry's top three companies. The Pittsburgh-based company was also sentenced to 13 months of probation. The tuna giant had asked US District Court Judge Edward Chen to reduce the fine to $50 million, arguing a $100 million penalty could bankrupt it because it still faces millions more in potential civil damages. But Chen said the court found the company has the assets, the ability to borrow money to pay the fine, and a legal recourse to ask for an extended payment schedule if it runs into financial trouble, the AP reports. He ordered the company to pay $5 million within 30 days and $11 million next year.
Starting in 2021, the company will have to make payments of $21 million each year for four years. StarKist last year agreed to plead guilty to a felony price fixing charge as part of a broad collusion that included Bumble Bee Foods and Chicken of the Sea. The scheme came to light when an attempt by Chicken of the Sea to buy Bumble Bee failed 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. Bumble Bee Foods pleaded guilty in 2017 to the same charge and paid a $25 million fine, $111 million lower than prosecutors said it should have been. The three companies face myriad lawsuits from wholesalers, food service companies, and retailers.
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