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SK Foods founder guilty in tomato products price-fixing case

March 24, 2012|By Stuart Pfeifer, Los Angeles Times
  • Indicted tomato king Frederick Scott Salyer, left, and friend Calvin Carter enter the federal courthouse in Sacramento.
Indicted tomato king Frederick Scott Salyer, left, and friend Calvin Carter… (Randall Benton, AP )

A member of one of California's best-known farming families pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges related to a scheme to inflate the prices of tomato products.

Frederick Scott Salyer, founder of Central Valley tomato processing company SK Foods, pleaded guilty Friday in Sacramento to racketeering and price-fixing charges.

Under a plea agreement with prosecutors, Salyer faces four to seven years in federal prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced July 10.

Salyer, 56, who lives in Pebble Beach, remains free on $6 million bail. He ran SK Foods from its founding in 1990 until 2009.

Prosecutors had accused Salyer of orchestrating the payment of bribes to purchasing agents for SK Foods customers Kraft Foods, Frito-Lay North America Inc. and others to encourage them to purchase his company's products.

Salyer also was accused of directing employees to falsify lab test results about SK Foods' tomato paste and whether the products qualified as "organic."

Additionally, he was accused of conspiring with competing companies to set inflated prices for their products.

Benjamin B. Wagner, the U.S. attorney for the eastern district of California, said authorities are determined to fight corruption in the food industry.

"Corruption in any form is despicable, but when such occurs within the food industry, it erodes public trust in products and threatens the industry as a whole," said Herbert M. Brown, special agent in charge of the FBI's Sacramento office.

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