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Ex-Bumble Bee CEO Lischewski Appeals Price-Fixing Conviction

July 1, 2020, 3:03 PM

Former Bumble Bee CEO Chris Lischewski will ask the Ninth Circuit to undo his criminal conviction and 40-month prison sentence for his role in an industry-wide scheme to fix the price of canned tuna.

Judge Edward M. Chen handed down the sentence June 16, three months after he upheld a federal jury’s December guilty verdict. The case’s outcome is being viewed as a warning to top chicken and beef executives facing Justice Department probes that have started yielding arrests.

The sentencing in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California came two weeks after Washington state added to Lischewski’s legal woes by suing him and a former rival, Starkist Co., over the market rigging racket.

Bumble Bee, Starkist, and Chicken of the Sea were previously hit with eight- and nine-figure fines—including one that drove Bumble Bee into bankruptcy—after pleading guilty to criminal charges.

They’re also facing a multidistrict civil suit involving consolidated class actions on behalf of consumers, retailers, and restaurants, as well as nonclass claims by large retailers.

That case is part of a wave of price-fixing suits involving livestock and protein—including chicken, beef, pork, turkey, and salmon—amid calls from top Democrats to break up “big ag.”

At Lischewksi’s sentencing hearing last month, which was streamed over Zoom, Chen rejected a call for leniency by his attorneys, who had suggested 12 months of home confinement. Nor did he hand out the eight- to 10-year prison term and $1 million fine sought by the government.

Instead,the judge opted for a sentence roughly halfway between those points, as well as a $100,000 fine. He called the 59-year-old Lischewski “neither all good nor all bad,” citing his philanthropic efforts and lack of a prior criminal record, and noting the coronavirus risks presented by incarceration.

But Chen also stressed the impact of the criminal conspiracy, which inflated the price of a “simple staple purchased by thousands,” including low-income households and the elderly.

Lischewski, who’s scheduled to surrender himself Aug. 17, will now ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to reverse the rulings against him and lift the sentence, according to court papers he filed late Tuesday.

He was represented at trial by Keker, Van Nest & Peters LLP, and the appeal notice was signed by John D. Cline of San Francisco. The government is represented by the U.S. attorney’s office for the Northern District of California.

The case is United States v. Lischewski, N.D. Cal., No. 18-cr-203, notice of appeal filed 6/30/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mike Leonard in Washington at mleonard@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com

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