UPDATED: 2/13/14 3:16 pm ET - adds disciplinary actions
TOLEDO -- Rubber parts supplier Bridgestone Corp. has agreed to plead guilty and pay a $425 million criminal fine for its alleged role in a conspiracy to fix the prices of rubber anti-vibration automotive parts, the U.S. Department of Justice said today.
The government's ongoing price-fixing investigation into the auto supply chain now has yielded a total of $2.28 billion in criminal fines -- making it the largest single-industry prosecution in U.S. antitrust division history. Similar investigations have been ongoing in Canada, Europe and Asia.
In a one-count indictment filed in U.S. District Court here, the Tokyo-based supplier was charged with conspiracy for fixing the prices of auto parts sold in the United States to several Japanese automakers between 2001 and 2008.
The $425 million fine agreed to in the plea agreement is large when compared to those levied against the 25 other suppliers that have agreed to plead guilty as part of the ongoing price-fixing investigation. Justice Department officials said that the reason was because Bridgestone had been convicted of similar charges and paid a $28 million fine in 2011 for conspiring to fix prices in the marine hose industry, but failed at that time to disclose its activities in the automotive sector.
"The Antitrust Division will take a hard line when repeat offenders fail to disclose additional anticompetitive behavior," Brent Snyder, deputy assistant attorney general for the Antitrust Division's criminal enforcement program, said in a written statement. "Today's significant fine reaffirms the division's commitment to holding companies accountable for conduct that harms U.S. consumers."
In a statement, Bridgestone said it cooperated in the investigation since being informed of the probe in May 2012.
"Through the investigation, BSJ (Bridgestone) became aware that certain employees had engaged in certain acts in violation of U.S. antitrust laws from 2001 to 2008," the statement said. "BSJ is confident that the activities which led to the charges ceased in 2008, following full implementation of Bridgestone's global compliance initiative."
The company added that it would "redouble its efforts to ensure full compliance with all relevant laws and regulations through enhanced education, training and regular internal reviews and assessments."
The company said certain inside directors and officers would forego a bonus and take undisclosed salary cuts "to underscore the company's sincere regret for this incident."
"Also, BSJ will take appropriate disciplinary action against certain responsible employees in accordance with applicable corporate standards," the statement said.
Bridgestone is the 26th automotive supplier in the United States that has agreed to plead guilty to price fixing charges as part of the three-year-old investigation, which has also resulted charges against 28 individuals.
Chad Halcom of Crain's Detroit Business contributed to this report.