Second Bumble Bee tuna executive to plead guilty to price fixing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Bumble Bee tuna [CBRHOB.UL] executive has agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to fix the prices of canned tuna, the second Bumble Bee executive to do so in a month, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.

Kenneth Worsham agreed to plead guilty to one count of felony price fixing between 2011 and 2013 but did not identify the company he works for, the Justice Department said. Related civil lawsuits alleging tuna price fixing identify Worsham as a senior vice president of marketing for Bumble Bee.

Bumble Bee executive Walter Scott Cameron agreed early this month to plead guilty in the same conspiracy.

Bumble Bee spokeswoman Jill Irvin said that Worsham had been put on paid leave, as Cameron had previously.

“Bumble Bee continues to fully cooperate with the Department of Justice in regards to its ongoing investigation into the packaged seafood industry.” Irvin said in a statement. “The company continues to remain hopeful that it can reach a resolution with the DOJ on this matter, as it relates to the company, in early 2017.”

Worsham did not immediately respond to a telephone call seeking comment.

Worsham agreed to pay a fine and to cooperate with the probe, the Justice Department said, without specifying the amount of the fine.

The canned tuna market in the United States has long been dominated by three companies: Thai Union’s Chicken of the Sea, Bumble Bee and StarKist.

About a year ago, the Justice Department told Thai Union Group Plc, the world’s largest canned tuna producer, that it would file a lawsuit to stop its planned $1.5 billion acquisition of U.S. rival Bumble Bee. Thai Union scrapped the deal.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Meredith Mazzilli