Tomato king pleads guilty to racketeering
SACRAMENTO — A former California food company owner pleaded guilty to racketeering Thursday in a tomato price-fixing plot that authorities said drove up costs to consumers across the nation.
Frederick Scott Salyer, 56, was charged with bribing purchasing managers at food giants including Kraft Foods Inc. and Frito-Lay to buy tomato products from his company, Monterey-based SK Foods. Prosecutors said he and his co-conspirators fixed prices and rigged bids for the sale of tomato products to McCain Foods USA Inc., ConAgra Foods Inc. and Kraft.
Salyer pleaded guilty in federal court in Sacramento to two charges: racketeering and price fixing.
Racketeering carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence and price-fixing 10 years, although under a plea agreement Salyer is expected to face four to seven years behind bars. He remains under house arrest at his Pebble Beach estate on $6 million bail until his sentencing, which is scheduled for July 10.
Salyer and his lawyer, Malcolm Segal, declined to comment outside the courtroom.
For many years, SK Foods operated a plant in Colusa County near Williams.
Salyer was accused of being at the center of price-fixing ring that helped SK Foods capture 14 percent of the processed tomato market and rise to the second largest tomato processor in the state before investigators raided the company in 2008.
He also admitted that SK Foods routinely falsified lab test results for its tomato paste and that he ordered former employees to falsify information including the product's mold content, production date and whether it qualified as "organic," the U.S. attorney's office said.