The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) continues to focus on criminal prosecution of companies and individuals engaged in cartel, price-fixing or bid-rigging behavior. In a recent Congressional hearing, Antitrust Division Assistant Attorney General William Baer testified that DOJ is aggressively pursuing criminal price fixers and bid riggers because enforcement in these areas benefits consumers and the US economy. Vigorous criminal antitrust enforcement helps to eliminate illegal conduct, put wrongdoers on notice of the consequences, deter potential criminal activity, and result in lower prices for goods and services.
DOJ’s cartel enforcement statistics for fiscal year 2013 illustrate the robust enforcement activity. In FY2013, the DOJ filed 50 criminal cases and obtained over $1 billion in criminal fines. In these cases, the DOJ charged 21 corporations and 34 individuals, and courts imposed 28 prison terms with an average sentence of over two years per defendant. As Baer emphasized, although total criminal fines for cartel activity have averaged about $850 million per year for since 2009, the threat of jail time also is a powerful deterrent. In recent years, criminal antitrust enforcement has resulted in more individuals being sent to jail for longer period of time than ever and increasingly both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals have been sentenced to jail for antitrust violations. In fact, on Dec. 6, 2013, the former president of Sea Star Line LLC was sentenced to five years in prison for participation in a price fixing conspiracy – the longest term ever levied for a single violation.