Bumble Bee CEO Sentenced to 40 Months in Prison for Price-Fixing

After a lengthy sentencing hearing in federal court in San Francisco, Bumble Bee CEO Chris Lischewski was sentenced to 40 months in prison for his involvement in a tuna price-fixing conspiracy.  The judge rejected prosecutors’ request to sentence Lischewski to 10 years in prison.

Lischewski, who is 59 years old, argued for 12 months home confinement in view of the coronavirus.  Judge Chen also imposed a $100,000 fine and departed from a guideline range of 7 to 9 years imprisonment.  Judge Chen found that the tuna price-fixing conspiracy affected more than $600 million in commerce, a specific finding mandated under the US Sentencing Guidelines.

In sentencing Lischewski, Judge Chen emphasized that the tuna products were basic food staples and that the price-fixing conspiracy had a direct impact on low-income individuals who rely on tuna as a source of protein.

Lischewski was the CEO for Bumble Bee for almost 20 years.  He was convicted last year after a multi-week trial for conspiring with rivals at StarKist and Chicken of the Sea to raise the price of canned tuna.  Lischewski testified at his trial, and Judge Chen noted that he believed that Lischewski was untruthful on the stand.

As a result of the prosecution, Bumble Bee had to file for bankruptcy and has been subject to civil litigation by victims of the conspiracy, including consumers, restaurants, grocery stores and others.

Prosecutors and defense counsel argued over Lischewski’s character and whether he came from a privileged upbringing.  He worked his way through college and eventually joined Bumbler Bee, eventually rising to the position of CEO.  The lawyers also argued over the impact of the price increases and whether consumers were harmed.  Most of Lischewski’s co-conspirators received lenient sentences in exchange for their cooperation at Lischewski’s trial.

Lischewski addressed the Court and requested a lenient sentence, claiming that tuna fish prices were rising during the time of the conspiracy and that Bumble Bee lost money during the so-called conspiracy.

Judge Chen permitted presentations from various tuna buyers and grocery stores as victim impact statements, who claimed that Lischewski’s conduct cost them hundreds of millions of dollars.

Judge Chen rejected pleas for mercy based on the social stigma caused to Lischewski and underscored the importance of sending a message to those who engaged in high-level economic crimes that they should be strictly punished.  Lischewski must report to prison Aug. 17. His counsel said they plan to appeal his conviction while he is serving time.

Prior to the Lischewski prosecution, Bumble Bee pled guilty and agreed to pay a $25 million criminal fine, and StarKist agreed to pay a $100 million criminal fine.

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