JANUARY 30, 2012 — Following a two-week trial, a federal jury in Puerto Rico yesterday found Frank Peake, the former president of Sea Star Line, guilty of participating in a conspiracy to fix rates and surcharges for water transportation of freight between the continental United States and Puerto Rico from at least as early as late 2005, until at least April 2008.
Mr. Peake was convicted of price fixing in violation of the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine for individuals. The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory maximum fine.
Witnesses at Mr. Peake's trial included former Sea Star senior vice president of yield management Peter Baci, who, after plea deal, was sentenced in January 2009 to serve 48 months in prison and to pay a $20,000 criminal fine for his role in the antitrust conspiracy. Mr. Baci's prison sentence was the longest ever imposed for a single antitrust charge.
"The coastal shipping price-fixing conspiracy affected the price of nearly every product that was shipped to and from Puerto Rico during the conspiracy," said Bill Baer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division, after yesterday's verdict. "This successful prosecution shows that the division will hold accountable high-level executives who perpetuate these crimes."
Sea Star pleaded guilty on Dec. 20, 2011, and was sentenced by Judge Daniel R. Dominguez to pay a $14.2 million criminal fine for its role in the conspiracy from as early as May 2002, until at least April 2008.
According to evidence presented at trial, Sea Star, Mr. Peake and co-conspirators carried out the conspiracy by agreeing during meetings and communications to allocate customers of Puerto Rico freight services and to rig bids and fix the rates and surcharges to be charged to purchasers of water transportation of freight between the continental United States and Puerto Rico. The department said the conspirators also engaged in meetings for the purpose of monitoring and enforcing adherence to the agreed-upon rates and sold Puerto Rico freight services at collusive and noncompetitive rates.
Including yesterday's jury conviction, as a result of this ongoing investigation, three companies and six individuals have pleaded guilty or been convicted at trial. The five individuals and three companies that have been sentenced have been ordered to serve a total of more than 11 years in prison and to pay more than $46 million in criminal fines.