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Price-fixing probe snags exec of auto parts firm

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WASHINGTON—A former executive with a Japanese transplant manufacturer of anti-vibration rubber auto parts has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids within the auto parts industry, the U.S. Department of Justice has announced.

Hiroshi Yoshida entered a guilty plea on one felony count Oct. 30 before the U.S. federal district court in Toledo, Ohio.

According to the plea agreement, Yoshida agreed to serve a year and a day in prison, pay a $20,000 criminal fine and cooperate with the Justice Department's ongoing investigation of price fixing and bid-rigging.

So far, Yoshida is the 12th auto parts company executive to plead guilty in the investigation since the first plea agreement was filed in Detroit federal district court on Sept. 29, 2011.

First rubber auto part maker

However, his is the first company identified as a manufacturer of rubber auto parts, and also the first in which the Justice Department declined to name the company.

A court document refers to Yoshida's employer as “Company A,” based in Saitama Prefecture, Japan, with a subsidiary in Washington Court House, Ohio.

Two local Ohio newspapers have reported that company is Yusa Corp., which is based in Washington Court House and is a subsidiary of Yamashita Rubber Co., which is based in Saitama, Japan.

A Justice Department spokesman would not confirm or deny the identity of the company. Yusa executives couldn't be reached for comment.

According to the redacted complaint filed June 15, 2012, in the Toledo court, Yoshida had discussions with competitors about price fixing as early as late 2003 or early 2004, for parts the companies provided to American Honda Motor Co. Inc.

The press release issued Nov. 16 by the Justice Department said Yoshida's involvement in the conspiracy began at least as early as October 2005 and continued until at least 2011.

Plea agreements

In the Sept. 29, 2011, plea agreement, Furukawa Electric Co. Ltd., a manufacturer of automotive wire harnesses and related products, agreed to pay a $200 million fine for its involvement in the conspiracy, according to the Justice Department.

Three of its executives—Junichi Funo, Hirotsigu Nagata and Tetsuya Ukai—agreed to serve sentences in U.S. prisons ranging from a year and a day to 18 months.

The Justice Department spokesman declined to say whether any further indictments can be expected in the investigation.

The other plea agreements were as follows:

Jan. 30, 2012—Yazaki Corp. and DENSO Corp., two Japanese manufacturers of auto electrical components, agreed to pay fines of $470 million and $78 million, respectively.

Yazaki executives Tsuneaki Hanamura, Ryoji Kawai, Shigeru Ogawa and Hisamitsu Takada agreed to serve prison terms ranging from 15 months to two years.

March 26, 2012—DENSO executive Norihiro Imai agreed to serve a year and a day in prison and pay a $20,000 fine.

April 3, 2012—Japanese electrical parts manufacturer G.S. Electech Inc. agreed to pay a $2.75 million fine.

April 23, 2012—Fujikura Ltd., a Japanese manufacturer of automotive wire harnesses, agreed to pay a $20 million fine.

April 26, 2012—DENSO executive Makoto Hattori, a former manager in DENSO's Toyota Sales Division, agreed to serve 14 months in prison and pay a $20,000 fine for his role in conspiring to fix prices and rig bids in the heater control panel market.

June 6, 2012—Autoliv Inc., a Swedish supplier of seatbelts, airbags and steering wheels, agreed to pay a $14.5 million fine.

Also, Yazaki executive Kahuhiro Kash- imoto agreed to serve 14 months in prison and pay a $20,000 fine for conspiring to fix prices for automotive wire harnesses.

July 30, 2012—TRW Deutschland Holding GmbH, a German subsidiary of TRW Automotive Holdings Corp., agreed to pay a $5.1 million fine for conspiring to fix prices on seatbelts, airbags and steering wheels sold to two German auto manufacturers assembling cars in the U.S.

Aug. 16, 2012—Yazaki executive Toshio Sudo agreed to serve 14 months in prison and pay a $20,000 fine for conspiring to fix prices for various auto parts.

Aug. 28, 2012—Japanese firm Nippon Seiki Co. Ltd. agreed to pay a $1 million fine for conspiring to fix prices for instrument panel clusters.

Oct. 30, 2012—Japanese firm Tokai Rika Co. Ltd. agreed to pay a $17.7 million fine for conspiring to fix prices for heater control panels.

Yusa was founded in 1987 as a joint venture between Lord Corp. and Yamashita Rubber. In 1997, Yamashita acquired full ownership of Yusa.

Yusa specializes in engine mounts, bushings, tubes and hoses, according to its website.