SAN FRANCISCO A longtime executive from Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.'s U.S. subsidiary has agreed to plead guilty and to serve jail time for participating in a global conspiracy to fix DRAM prices, the Justice Department said Thursday (Sept. 21).
Thomas Quinn, senior vice president of marketing for memory products at Samsung Semiconductor Inc., was charged with violating the Sherman Act in a one-count information alleging participation in an agreement to fix prices of DRAM and to coordinate bids in an auction held by a DRAM purchaser, the Justice Department said.
Under the plea agreement, which must be approved by the court, Quinn has agreed to serve eight months in prison and to pay a criminal fine of $250,000, the Justice Department said. Quinn has also agreed to cooperate in the Justice Department's ongoing investigation.
In pleading guilty, Quinn becomes the 13th person to be convicted in an ongoing probe by the Justice Department over a DRAM price-fixing conspiracy alleged to have existed in the late 1990s and early part of this decade.
Three Samsung executives from the parent company in South Korea agreed to plead guilty in March of this year. A total of eight executives from Germany's Infineon Technologies AG and Hynix Semiconductor Inc. previously pleaded guilty and were each sentenced a $250,000 fine and jail terms ranging from five to eight months. In 2003, a Micron Technology Inc. executive pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and was sentenced to serve six months of home detention.
"Prison time for price-fixers remains the most potent deterrent to illegal cartel activity," said Thomas Barnett, assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's antitrust division. "Today's action sends a clear messagethose who engage in price-fixing schemes will be held accountable for their illegal conduct."
In pleading guilty, Quinn admitted to conspiring with unnamed employees from other memory makers to fix the prices of DRAM sold to certain original equipment manufacturers from on or about April 1, 2001 to on or about June 15, 2002, and to coordinate bids on a Dec. 5, 2001 Sun Microsystems Inc. auction, the Justice Department said.
For at least three years, the U.S. has been investigating alleged price fixing among DRAM manufacturers between 1999 and 2003. Four companies and 13 individuals have now been charged, resulting in fines totaling more than $731 million.
Samsung pleaded guilty to federal price-fixing charges, agreeing to pay a $300 million fine, last October. Hynix pleaded guilty in April 2005 and agreed to a $185 million fine. Infineon agreed in September 2004 to pay a $160 million fine. In January, Japanese manufacturer Elpida Memory Inc. agreed to plead guilty and pay an $84 million fine.
According to the Justice Department, the $731 million in fines is the second largest amount of ever collected by the department from a single price-fixing conspiracy. In 1999, the department levied fines of $775 million against two companies in connection with a vitamin industry price-fixing investigation.
The Justice Department maintains that the price-fixing scheme directly affected sales to U.S. computer makers Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Compaq Computer Corp., IBM Corp., Apple Computer Inc., Gateway Inc. and Sun.