Wiretap produces federal charges including bid-rigging and fraud

Editor’s note: This news ran almost a month ago and we missed it.
Thanks to Stanley for bringing it to our attention.

Following a court-authorized wiretap investigation, a federal grand jury in Boise returned an indictment last week charging two executives of competing companies with conspiring to rig bids and allocate territories in violation of the Sherman Act (which prohibits trusts, monopolies, and cartels), conspiring to commit wire fraud, and committing wire fraud, according to U.S. Attorney Josh Hurwit.

LocalNews8 reported in December that the seven-count felony indictment specifies that the conspiracy by 60-year-old Ike Tomlinson of Terreton and 61-year-old Kris Bird of Salmon affected contracts for firefighting services. The U.S. Forest Service runs a competitive bidding process for these contracts; the indictment alleges that beginning in February 2014  Tomlinson and Bird coordinated their contract bids to “squeeze” and “drown” competitors; they accepted payment for fuel trucks at collusive and noncompetitive daily rates, and then tried to conceal their actions.

The East Idaho News reported that the two were indicted by a grand jury on one count of felony conspiracy to commit wire fraud, five counts of felony wire fraud, one count of conspiracy in restraint of trade: bid rigging and territorial allocation. The charges involve actions between February 2014 and March 2023. The Jefferson Star reported in December that Tomlinson and Bird pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The indictment quotes a text conversation between Tomlinson and Bird, in which the two are discussing raising prices for water tenders.

Tomlinson: Got my water tenders in. Did not put any in salmon. FYI.

Bird: You are the man!! If you wan to put a couple here for a high amount I don’t really care!

Tomlinson: I think I might do that. What should I bid?

Bird: All find out what my bid was and then maybe we’ll both raise them.  😄 

Tomlinson: K just let me know Thanks

In 2020 Tomlinson admitted to collusion with Bird in a recorded conversation, suggesting to another (unnamed) individual that if they did not work together, that individual would “make no money.” Tomlinson told this person:

“As far as the fuel trucks go, I mean it’s just like – you know how Kris Bird and I work together? We basically talk once or twice a year and decide what we’re going to do. And we work it out. Now, if I wasn’t honest and didn’t work it out with you guys that year, trust is gone, we’re done. You know what I mean? We’re back to battling but -- and if we’re back to battling, then we’re both back to making no money. You see what I’m saying?”

Tomlinson then suggested the individual could “buy all the trailers” and then he  and Bird would “do the fuel trucks,” allowing them to “have an agreement where we don’t compete against each other.” The indictment says the other person told Tomlinson that his collusion with Bird was illegal — but the two continued anyway. Through a wiretap on Tomlinson’s cellphone, investigators heard him and Bird discussing how to push other contractors out of the bidding process, with Bird saying, “We could punch them suckers down so that it hurts ’em.”

The investigation was conducted by the Department of Justice Procurement Collusion Strike Force (PCSF). FBI agents, with judicial authorization, intercepted phone calls between Tomlinson and Bird, who spoke with each other just before the USFS deadline to submit bids on fuel truck contracts.  They agreed to rig their bids, allocate territories between their companies, and target other competitors.

A violation of the Sherman Act carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison and a $1 million fine for individuals and a maximum penalty of a $100 million fine for corporations. Violating the wire fraud statute carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. A federal district court judge will determine sentences after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Trial Attorney Matthew Chou and Assistant Chief Christopher J. Carlberg of the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Mazorol for the District of Idaho are prosecuting the case.

Anyone with information in connection with this investigation can contact the PCSF HERE. You can also contact Cassie Fulghum, public information officer, at (208)334-1211.

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