Four years in jail for price fixing
A US appeal court has upheld a decision to impose the harshest jail sentence ever imposed on a cartelist, by affirming a four-year term for Steven VandeBrake’s participation in a price-fixing cartel. The US District Court also imposed a US$800,000 fine, thus imposing penalties far higher than those prescribed by US federal sentencing guidelines.
The Department of Justice investigated VandeBrake’s participation in a cartel that rigged bids and fixed prices for the sale of ready-mix concrete in Iowa. The District Court’s record sentence was reasoned by VandeBrake’s self-serving rationalisations and for showing no remorse for his actions.
In handing down the sentence, the court decided that the US antitrust sentencing guidelines were insufficiently lenient, and consequently adopted and applied the fraud guidelines. However, as the fraud guidelines are for a different set of crimes, they also calculate harm in a manner different to the harm calculations set out in the antitrust guidelines. Going forward, this decision potentially gives judges the option of choosing between antitrust or fraud guidelines, with the potential to impose harsher sentences but resulting in increased uncertainty.