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Ocheyedan businessman facing class action suit

OCHEYEDAN, Iowa -- A businessman who pleaded guilty to collusion and bid-rigging earlier this week has also been named in several civil cases, including a class action suit, according to court documents.

Kent Robert Stewart, Spirit Lake, Iowa, pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy to suppress and eliminate competition by fixing prices and rigging bids for sales of ready-mix concrete beginning as early as January 2008 and continuing until as late August 2009.

Stewart was president of Great Lakes Concrete, which had its principal places of business in Ocheyedan and Spencer, Iowa.

"During the relevant period, the defendant participated with other persons and another entity engaged in the manufacture and sale of ready-mix concrete, the primary purpose of which was to fix prices and submit non-competitive, rigged bids for ready-mix concrete sold in the Northern District of Iowa," court documents state. "In furtherance of the conspiracy, the defendant engaged in discussions with representatives of another ready-mix company. During such discussions, agreements were reached regarding the submission of non-competitive and rigged bids ..."

Concrete sold by one or more of the conspirator firms, equipment and materials necessary to the production and distribution of ready-mix concrete, and/or payments for ready-mix concrete, traveled in interstate commerce, which the courts say was within the flow of and substantially affected interstate trade and commerce.

The sentencing agreement recommendation is that Stewart pay a fine of $20,000 and serve a period of imprisonment of no more than six months. Stewart has agreed to cooperate fully with the courts in the prosecution of this case, the conduct of the current federal investigation of violations of federal antitrust and related criminal laws. He will be required to produce all non-privileged documents, including claimed personal documents, and make himself available for legal interviews. He must also testify if called upon to do so in connection with any federal proceedings, grand jury hearings or other judicial matters.

Stewart is now a party in several civil suits, including a class action suit on behalf of persons who purchased Ready Mixed Concrete. Because of Stewart and his co-conspirator's unlawful conduct, the suit states, the plaintiffs paid artificially inflated prices for the concrete. Due to the nature of the trade and commerce involved, the plaintiff believes class members number in the hundreds.