Potato cartel settles for $25 million

A federal judge approved a $25 million settlement that completes one chapter of a five-year long antitrust battle over the nation's potato market.

Consumers will get $5.5 million and grocers $19.5 million. Chief U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill granted final approval of the settlement on Monday.

Jamestown, N.Y.-based potato buyer Brigiotta's Farmland Produce and Garden Center filed the class action against the United Potato Growers of America (UPGA), United Potato Growers of Idaho (UPGI) and a long list of member and nonmember growers in 2010.

The lawsuit, and another filed by Associated Wholesale Grocers in 2013, claims the defendants conspired to inflate the price of potatoes "in classic cartel behavior," that the cartel used physical and nonphysical intimidation to get independent growers to join, that it used high-tech methods of surveillance and physical "flyovers" to monitor members, and that the successful campaign led to an 80 percent control of the market.

Idaho grower Albert Wada, of Wada Farms Group, allegedly spearheaded the campaign, founding the United Fresh Potato Growers of Idaho in 2004, later renaming it the United Potato Growers of Idaho.

The organization's purpose, as stated in its articles of incorporation, is to "stabilize potato prices and supplies in the state of Idaho and to work with similar cooperatives in other states having similar purposes," according to the third amended complaint, a 107-page monster filed on Jan. 24, 2014.

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