A 52-year-old Fremont man and former purchasing manager for Safeway Inc. has been charged with two counts of wire fraud for accepting bribes from a tomato processing company representative, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said.A two-count felony charge was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Sacramento against Michael Chavez as part of an ongoing federal investigation into the activities of SK Foods, a California-based tomato processing company. Chavez has agreed to plead guilty to the wire fraud charges and faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each charge, Internal Revenue Service Special Agent Arlette Lee said.As group manager of strategic sourcing for Pleasanton-based Safeway, Chavez is accused of receiving personal bribery payments between 2000 and 2007 from Randall Lee Rahal, 61, of Ramsey, N.J., a sales broker and director of SK Foods. Chavez has admitted to these allegations, Wagner said, and to steering contracts for processed tomato products to SK Foods in return for the bribes. A spokesman for Safeway could not immediately be reached for comment.Former corporate managers for Kraft Foods Inc. in New York, Texas and New Jersey have pleaded guilty to receiving bribe payments from Rahal, Wagner said. Rahal pleaded guilty in December 2008 to racketeering, bid rigging and contract allocation conspiracies among other charges, Wagner said. SK Foods declared bankruptcy in May 2009.The FBI, the IRS, Criminal Investigation and the antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice headed the investigation.
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