Salyer was chief executive officer of Monterey, Calif.-based SK Foods as well as owner. The company, which declared bankruptcy in 2009 and was later purchased by Olam International, had additional facilities in Lemoore, Williams and Ripon.
In his plea, Salyer admitted to prompting broker Randall Rahal to pay bribes and kickbacks to purchasing officers for Kraft Foods, Frito-Lay, and B&G Foods — all customers of SK Foods — over a four-year period. The intent, according to court documents, was to induce Kraft’s Robert Watson, Frito-Lay’s Richard Wahl, and B&G’s Robert Turner to promote SK Foods’ interests over that of their employer.
Lab test results for tomato paste were routinely falsified at Salyer’s direction, according to the plea. Former employees Alan Huey and Jennifer Dahlman were ordered to falsify tomato paste grading factors, and SK Foods lied about its product’s percentage of natural tomato soluble solids, mold count, production date and status as organic or conventional.
An illegal target price agreement was discussed with other tomato paste sellers. According to the court record, Salyer got a co-conspirator to agree to withdraw a lower offer to a customer.
Federal law enforcement officials dubbed the probe of Salyer and his conspirators Operation Rotten Tomato. The name was later taken up by a pro-Salyer website. Ten other defendants have pleaded guilty in the case. Two were sentenced and the remaining eight are to be sentenced Feb. 26.
“Salyer and his co-conspirators ripped off consumers and reaped big profits by manipulating prices on millions of pounds of processed tomatoes,” Jose Martinez, special agent in charge of the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal investigation arm, said in a news release.
According to court documents, in 2009 Salyer moved more than $3 million to Andorra and made a $50,000 deposit on a condominium there. Andorra, a principality between France and Spain, has no extradition treaty with the U.S. Salyer was arrested in February 2010 upon arrival in New York on a flight from London.