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Published February 13, 2013, 01:42 PM

Tomato farmer gets 6 years in prison for price-fixing

A man who built one of California’s most successful tomato farming companies was sentenced to six years in prison for scheming to inflate tomato prices and deceiving consumers about his products’ quality.

By: Stuart Pfeifer , Los Angeles Times

A man who built one of California’s most successful tomato farming companies was sentenced to six years in prison for scheming to inflate tomato prices and deceiving consumers about his products’ quality.

Frederick Scott Salyer, former owner of SK Foods, was accused of bribing buyers with companies such as Kraft Foods and Frito Lay to pay inflated prices for his tomato products, prices that were then passed along to consumers.

He also instructed employees to write false reports about the tomatoes’ quality, lying about mold content and whether the product qualified as organic, federal prosecutors said.

“Scott Salyer used bribery and fraud to deceive his customers about SK Foods’ products in order to maximize his profits,” says Benjamin B. Wagner, the U.S. attorney in Sacramento. “He turned his company into a machine of corruption and economic crime.”

U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton imposed the sentence Feb. 12 at a hearing in Sacramento, Calif.

Salyer, 57, pleaded guilty in March 2012 to racketeering and price-fixing charges. He had been free on $6 million bond, living under house arrest at his Pebble Beach, Calif., home.

Ten other people have been convicted of charges related to the scheme, prosecutors say.

“This case is a prime example where public trust was breached by corporate greed,” says Herbert M. Brown, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Sacramento office.

“Salyer’s business practices knowingly defrauded consumers for financial gain and he attempted to use the cloak of an agribusiness giant to insulate himself.”

Salyer’s attorneys had asked for a sentence of no more than four years in prison, saying he had already paid dearly for his crimes.

“Mr. Salyer has suffered in other ways. He has lost his business and his home, suffered personal financial ruin and lost all standing in the community and the business world,” defense attorney Elliot R. Peters said in a sentencing brief.

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