Indicted tomato king Frederick Scott Salyer pleaded guilty today in the federal government's massive bribery and conspiracy case that accused him of trying to corner the nation's market for tomato products.
The 56-year-old scion of one of California's most prominent agriculture families accepted a plea deal after more than two years of sparring in court.
Salyer pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering and one count of price fixing and prosecutors indicated they would seek a sentence of no more than seven years. The defense will seek a sentence of no more than four years, and if the judge seeks to sentence Salyer to more than seven years he has the right to withdraw his plea.
He also must forfeit money that he transferred to bank accounts in Lichtenstein and Andorra while he was under investigation.
His plea came during what had been scheduled as a routine status conference and marks the end of one of the largest scandals ever to hit the American food industry.
Salyer had headed SK Foods LP, the Monterey-based firm that was one of the nation's largest suppliers of tomato-based products.
He had been accused of bribing buyers to purchase his products over those of competitors, of mislabeling products that were old or moldy and of squirreling away millions of dollars overseas as part of a plan to flee rather than face prosecution.
He spent eight months in custody, most of it in the Sacramento County Jail, before his lawyers succeeded in having him released on $6 million bail and placed under house arrest and electronic monitoring in his Pebble Beach mansion.
Salyer had indicated all along that he planned to fight the charges, which could have sent him to prison for life, and he assembled a legal team of some of the nation's most skilled attorneys, including Sacramento's Malcolm Segal and John Keker of San Francisco.
At least 10 other food industry executives pleaded guilty to federal charges in the case.\
PHOTO CAPTION: "Tomato King" Frederick Scott Salyer, left, and friend Calvin Carter enters the Federal Courthouse in Sacramento on Friday March 23, 2012./Randal Benton/Sacramento Bee