Frederick Scott Salyer, who was the owner and chief executive officer of SK
Foods as well as the owner of many related enterprises, including Salinas,
CA-based Salyer American Fresh Foods, a grower-shipper of vegetables, was
hit with additional criminal charges in late April.
Mr. Salyer, who was commonly referred to as Scott Salyer and is the son of
the founder of the Salyer agricultural conglomerate, was indicted in February
on two counts of racketeering under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt
Organizations Act. He was charged with being involved in various schemes to
defraud SK Foods' corporate customers through bribery and food
misbranding and adulteration. The indictment also charged him with four
counts of wire fraud and one count of obstruction of justice.
This latest indictment adds counts dealing with his alleged participation in a
conspiracy to suppress and eliminate competition in the tomato processing
industry by raising and fixing prices and rigging bids.
The U.S. Justice Department announced the new indictment in a press
release, which stated that the "case is the product of a joint investigation by
the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal
Investigation, the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations, and the U.S.
Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division."
The five new counts allege that Salyer conspired with others to fix prices or
rigged bids for the sale of processed tomato products to three of SK Foods’
domestic customers -- McCain Foods USA Inc., ConAgra Foods Inc. and Kraft
Foods Inc. -- and to include certain terms in those contracts for the sale of
processed tomato products, which were in violation of the Sherman Antitrust
The maximum statutory penalty on the racketeering charges against Mr.
Salyer is 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and the forfeiture of any
interest, property or proceeds acquired or maintained as a result of the
racketeering activity. The antitrust charges carry a penalty of up to 10 years
in prison and a fine of up to $1 million. The wire fraud and obstruction
charges are punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Marion Quesenbery, a partner in the law firm of Rynn & Janowsky, does not
expect the newest indictment to impede the progress being made in the
bankruptcy case of SK Foods and the deliberations with regard to the
distribution of funds in the Salyer American receivership case.
However, Ms. Quesenbery said that Mr. Salyer’s lawyers did file a brief April
28 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in support of their position that a temporary stay
be granted in the bankruptcy proceedings because of the criminal charges
filed against Mr. Salyer. In essence, they are asking the bankruptcy court to
suspend the proceedings until the criminal case is settled.
In the brief, the lawyers laid out the criminal case against Mr. Salyer by
including numerous exhibits revealing plea agreements that many other
defendants have made with the government. A reading of the numerous
pages makes it clear that many of the other buyers and sellers involved in the
processing tomato case agreed to cooperate with the investigation against
Mr. Sawyer in an effort to reduce their individual sentences.
For example, Exhibit G details how Randall Lee Rahal, a sales broker for SK
Foods and a defendant in the case, “engaged in mail fraud, wire fraud and
bribery” to expand SK Foods customers base and to ensure that those
customers paid inflated prices for the firm’s products. In great detail, it lays
out the many ways in which he perpetrated the fraud and engaged in illegal
Exhibit G goes on to discuss the “Plea and Cooperation” agreement with Mr.
Rahal in which the defendant will plead guilty to three counts of conspiracy,
money laundering and price fixing, pay fines and restitution to victims of his
crimes if so ordered, and give the government his complete cooperation in
their investigations and prosecutions. In return, the government agreed to
recommend that Mr. Rahall “be sentenced to the bottom of the applicable
guideline range for his offense.”
A handful of other exhibits detailed similar plea bargains with other
Ms. Quesenbery said that despite the brief filed by Mr. Salyer’s lawyers, the
Bankruptcy Court proceedings are moving forward. “One client of mine
received a large check the other day and another one is expected to be paid
in full any day now,” she said.
She added that the clients she is representing are vegetable growers that
provided SK Foods with vegetables it used in its processing operations.
Ms. Quesenbery said that the receivership proceedings against Salyer
American Fresh Foods have moved much more slowly, but she was confident
that all PACA claims will eventually be paid in full.
She said that the receiver has about $10 million in assets, while there is only
$3 million to $4 million in PACA claims. Banks, however, are owed far more
and have been delaying the proceedings with their many court filings.
While the PACA Trust law puts agricultural creditors first in line providing
they followed proper procedures, Ms. Quesenbery said the banks that did
business with Salyer American Fresh Foods are doing everything possible to
disqualify those creditors. The banks have not won any big victories yet, but
they have delayed the payments of those PACA funds. The longtime produce
industry attorney expressed optimism that the PACA Trust creditors will
prevail in the long run.