Indicted aerospace managers contest DOJ’s no-hire antitrust charges

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The logo of U.S. manufacturer Pratt & Whitney is seen as people visit the company's booth at the Singapore Airshow at Changi Exhibition Center February 18, 2016. REUTERS/Edgar Su

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  • Defense lawyers argue charges outside scope of criminal antitrust laws
  • Dozens of parallel private civil lawsuits hit the courts after indictment

(Reuters) - Defense lawyers for six indicted aerospace executives and managers on Wednesday urged a Connecticut federal judge to dismiss novel criminal antitrust charges alleging they participated in a scheme to restrict employee hiring and recruitment.

The defendants, including a former manager at Raytheon Technologies Corp subsidiary Pratt & Whitney, were charged in December 2021 for their alleged roles in a long-running criminal conspiracy. Prosecutors said the indictment was the first in an ongoing probe of alleged labor-related antitrust violations in the aerospace engineering services industry.

Criminal defense lawyers for Mahesh Patel, formerly of Pratt & Whitney who is described by prosecutors as an alleged leader of the conspiracy, and the other defendants said the no-poach agreements central to the case were "legitimate business collaboration" and not criminal acts. The defendants have pleaded not guilty.

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"This case is unlike any criminal antitrust case the Department of Justice has ever brought," the defense lawyers wrote. "It is unsupported by legal precedent and is contrary to DOJ's own public guidance on the type of employee 'no-poach' agreements that DOJ will prosecute as violations of the criminal antitrust law."

The Justice Department has pursued a handful of criminal antitrust cases involving labor markets since announcing new guidance in 2016 about hiring practices and competition law.

In two high-profile cases, prosecutors saw back-to-back defeats at trial in April. Juries in Texas and Colorado spurned the government's antitrust charges, including a case against the dialysis provider DaVita Inc and its former chief executive officer.

A Justice Department spokesperson on Thursday didn't immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Patel's attorney, Brian Spears of the Connecticut firm Spears Manning & Martini, declined to comment.

Jonathan Kanter, head of the DOJ's antitrust division, in a statement last year about the case said the government uncovered a "widespread scheme to deprive aerospace workers of the ability to plan their own careers and earn competitive pay."

Prosecutors have said the alleged aerospace hiring and recruitment conspiracy affected thousands of engineers and others who work on the design and manufacturing of aircraft parts.

More than two dozen parallel civil lawsuits were lodged in the weeks after the indictment was announced.

The government's response to the effort to dismiss the case is due in August. U.S. District Judge Victor Bolden has set the trial for March 2023.

The case is United States v. Patel, et al, U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, No. 3:21-cr-00220-VAB.

For the United States: Carrie Syme and David Huang of the Justice Department

For Patel: Brian Spears of Spears Manning & Martini

Read more:

DOJ defends rare wage-fixing criminal case in Maine federal court

After DOJ antitrust losses in employment trials, defense lawyers urge 'rethink'

Quinn Emanuel, DiCello firms will lead 'no poach' aerospace lawsuits

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