A New Jersey-based tomato broker has admitted bribing the purchasing agents of some of the US's largest food companies to win tomato supply contracts for SK Foods.

Randall Lee Rahal, the owner of wholesaler Intramark USA, plead guilty to charges that he paid bribes to win and keep supply contracts for SK Foods and to obtain information about competitors' bids.

Rahal worked as a broker for SK Foods, a Monterey-based tomato grower and processor. According to the charges, Rahal regularly bribed purchasing agents of SK Foods' customers, which included the likes of Kraft Foods, McCormick, Safeway and ConAgra Foods, to win supply contracts at inflated prices and to obtain information about competitors.

"This conduct deprived the purchasers of processed tomato products of the benefits of a competitive marketplace, ultimately causing American consumers to pay higher prices for these everyday staples," said acting assistant attorney general Deborah Garza.

"The Antitrust Division will continue to prosecute vigorously those who defraud American consumers," she added

The charge, which was made yesterday (10 December) is the first in a joint, ongoing investigation by the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento, the Department of Justice Antitrust Division's San Francisco Field Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Sacramento and the Internal Revenue Service.

The US Department of Justice said that Rahal is co-operating with its ongoing investigation. He will also forfeit US$600,000 seized in April by the Internal Revenue Service, the Department revealed.