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Accidental Antitrust Violations

Posted on in Criminal Defense

Wisconsin criminal defense attorney, Wisconsin defense lawyer, federal crimesThe notion of accidentally committing a crime can be hard for many people to swallow. After all, part of the reason that a society has a criminal justice system is to express moral disapproval for things beyond what a civil lawsuit, like a personal injury suit, can do. Much of that moral culpability stems from people's conscious decision to do the wrong thing. That can make criminal antitrust violations difficult to accept because many people accidentally run afoul of antitrust laws in the course of doing what may seem to them to be an ordinary, acceptable business practice.

Antitrust Basics

Antitrust law is the branch of law designed to promote healthy competition among rival businesses. This branch of law has several important statutes, but the most important is the Sherman Antitrust Act. The Act has two major sections for defining antitrust. One section punishes monopolies, companies that have a lock or near-lock on a market, and use that lack of competition inappropriately to drive up prices or keep out competitors. While the exact definition of an “inappropriate” use of market power is a difficult line to draw, this portion of antitrust is difficult to violate accidentally because most monopolists understand the position that they are in.

The more common way to accidentally violate antitrust is through a violation of Section 1 of the Act, which forbids any “contract...or conspiracy in restraint of trade or commerce” because the Act was written in the 19th Century, and it reads like it. What that quote means is that companies are not supposed to make agreements not to compete or to work together to the detriment of consumers. Common examples of these sorts of agreements would be price fixing, companies agreeing to set an arbitrarily high price; concerted refusals to deal, companies getting together and refusing to buy or sell from a specific supplier or group; and market division, companies agreeing to leave each other's territories alone. While many of these seem obviously problematic when laid out like that, seemingly innocent practices can also create antitrust problems.

An Example

One example of such a practice occurred in Arizona in the nineties. There was a dental insurance plan operating in Arizona that had increased payments to dentists in Phoenix, but was still paying the same amount to dentists in Tucson. A group of Tucson dentists met to discuss this, and decided that they should also have seen an increase in payments. The dentists mailed letters to the insurance company saying that they wanted to see the same price increase in their market or they would be unable to continue to accept the insurance. None of these dentists thought about the antitrust implications of what appeared to be a simple price dispute, but three dentists were convicted at trial of price fixing as a result of this seemingly innocuous professional association meeting because the dentists were all competitors.

Antitrust and other white collar crimes can be subtle and complex. If you have been charged with such a crime, contact an experienced Milwaukee criminal defense attorney today to learn more about your rights.
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