Concrete price-fixing case might not be wrapped up: Undisclosed state investigation delaying civil lawsuit

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The U.S. Department of Justice’s highprofile, three-year investigation into price fixing in Indiana’s concrete industry resulted in one of the largest antitrust fines in history: $29.2 million against Greenfield-based Irving Materials Inc.

The investigation might not be over yet.

The DOJ seemed to conclude its Indianapolis inquiry last month, finally closing the criminal case. But a recent filing in a pending civil suit against IMI and its four former top executives hints the probe is continuing elsewhere.

This time, IMI appears to be cooperating with investigators in exchange for amnesty from further prosecution.

On Jan. 25, U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker ordered a stay in a civil case filed in February 2006 against IMI. The American National Fire Insurance Co. and the Ohio Casualty Insurance Co. are its plaintiffs. The stay refers to a state investigation previously undisclosed to the public.

“Defendants are ordered to file a report on the status of the state government’s investigations no later than six months from the date of this order,” it read.

IMI and its attorneys declined IBJ’s request for an interview. The DOJ did not respond to IBJ’s calls.

Staci Schneider, spokeswoman for Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter, said the AG is continuing to represent the Indiana Department of Transportation, a major concrete user, but declined to comment on whether INDOT had ordered a state investigation of IMI or any other concrete firm.

INDOT spokesman Andy Dietrick said he is not aware of any IMI investigation on INDOT’s behalf.

Schneider added that the AG can conduct a criminal investigation only if granted consent by a county prosecutor.

Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi’s spokesman Matthew Simmons said he was not aware of any current concrete price-fixing investigation through Brizzi’s office.

But in a May 2005 amnesty agreement between the DOJ and IMI, the company pledged to cooperate in a price-fixing investigation in other parts of the state. The agreement would excuse IMI for its role, if any, in price fixing in Bloomington, Marion and Muncie.

“IMI desires to report to the Antitrust Division possible price fixing activity or other conduct violative of the Sherman Act in the ready mixed concrete industry in the metropolitan areas of Bloomington, Indiana; Marion, Indiana; and Muncie, Indiana,” it reads.

Over the course of its criminal investigation, the DOJ has fined several other concrete companies for price fixing, including Fishers-based Builder’s Concrete & Supply Co. Inc.; Carmel-based Hughey Inc., which does business as Carmel Concrete Products; and Noblesville-based MA-RIAL Corp., which does business as Beaver Materials Corp.

Total fines for Indianapolis-area companies attached to the price-fixing case now total $35.2 million, and nine executives have received prison sentences.

A written transcript of former IMI Vice President Price Irving’s testimony in the Beaver criminal trial, which ended in February, makes reference to IMI’s amnesty agreement with the DOJ and hints that the investigation might still be alive.

Irving is asked to describe the status of the investigations in Bloomington, Marion and Muncie. At first, he says he doesn’t know their status. But then he says it is possible they are still ongoing.

Monroe County Prosecutor Chris Gaal did not respond to IBJ’s telephone request for comment.

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