BOISE, Idaho, December 19, 2023 (ENS) – After a court-authorized wiretap investigation, a federal grand jury in Boise, Idaho, this week charged two executives of competing companies with conspiring to rig bids for forest firefighting contracts and allocate territories in violation of the Sherman Act. They were also charged with conspiring to commit wire fraud and also with actually committing wire fraud.
According to the seven-count felony indictment, the conspiracy by Ike Tomlinson and Kris Bird, both Idaho residents, affected contracts for forest firefighting services.
The U.S. Forest Service runs a competitive bidding process for these contracts to make the most of taxpayer dollars, and the companies owned by these two men competed for contracts to supply fuel trucks to firefighting dispatch centers.
The indictment alleges that from February 2014, up to and including March 2023, the defendants coordinated their bids to “squeeze” and “drown” competitors; accepted payment for fuel trucks at collusive and noncompetitive daily rates; and tried to conceal their actions.
Tomlinson owned two companies, not identified by name in the indictment, that won contracts to provide fuel trucks to dispatch centers in: Idaho, Nevada, California, Montana, and elsewhere.
Bird owned a third company, also not identified by name in the indictment, that also won contracts to provide fuel trucks to dispatch centers in Idaho, Nevada and elsewhere.
In November 2019, the Justice Department created the Procurement Collusion Strike Force, PCSF, a joint law enforcement effort to combat antitrust crimes and related fraudulent schemes that impact government procurement, grant and program funding at all levels of government – federal, state and local.
This investigation was conducted by the Procurement Collusion Strike Force, which included FBI agents, with judicial authorization, intercepting phone calls between the defendants.
As alleged, Tomlinson and Bird spoke with one another shortly before the deadline to submit bids on fuel truck contracts. During calls quoted in the indictment, they allegedly agreed to rig bids, allocate territories and target competitors.
A violation of the Sherman Act carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine for individuals, and a maximum penalty of a $100 million fine for corporations. The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by victims if either amount is greater than the maximum.
A violation of the wire fraud statute carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison that a federal district court judge may impose.
The Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Idaho and FBI Salt Lake City Field Office, Boise Resident Agency are investigating the case. Trial Attorney Matthew Chou and Assistant Chief Christopher 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.
To learn more about the Procurement Collusion Strike Force, or to report information on bid rigging, price fixing, market allocation and other anticompetitive conduct related to government spending, click here. Anyone with information in connection with this particular investigation can contact the PCSF at this link.
Featured image: An aerial view of the Fletcher Fire that burned a mountainside above Carson City, Nevada. 2018 (Photo by Intermountain Fire Service)