Former air cargo executive pleads guilty in US cargo cartel case

By Damian Brett

Maria Christina Ullings, the former senior vice president of cargo sales and marketing for Martinair Cargo, has been jailed in the US after pleading guilty for her alleged role in the cargo price-fixing cartel that ran from around 2001 to 2006.

According to the US Department of Justice (DoJ), Ullings was sentenced to 14 months in prison with credit (of around six months) for the time she was held in the custody of the Italian government pending her extradition. She has also been sentenced to pay a $20,000 criminal fine.

The DoJ said that Ullings pleaded guilty to conspiring with others to suppress and eliminate competition by fixing and coordinating certain surcharges, including fuel surcharges, charged to customers located in the US and elsewhere for air cargo shipments.

“These air cargo shipments included heavy equipment, perishable commodities, and consumer goods destined for American consumers and shipped by American producers,” the DoJ said.

“Ullings participated in the conspiracy from at least as early as January 2001 until at least February 2006.”

A total of 22 airlines and 21 executives have been charged in the Justice Department’s investigation into price fixing in the air transportation industry.

To date, more than $1.8bn in criminal fines have been imposed and eight executives have been sentenced to serve prison time.

Ullings was apprehended by Italian authorities under an INTERPOL notice in July 2019 while visiting Sicily after being a fugitive for 10 years.

She arrived in Atlanta on January 10 and made her initial appearance on January 13 in the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Marc Siegel of law firm Jones Day said that even though some countries have policies against extraditing their own citizens, those policies may not extend to non-citizens visiting those countries.

“With a membership of 194 countries, INTERPOL makes it highly risky for individuals charged with a crime to travel freely without being apprehended at the request of a member country,” Siegel said.

“Ullings’ arrest and extradition highlights the US DOJ’s ongoing efforts to extradite foreign antitrust defendants to the United States to stand trial on cartel charges.

“DOJ coordinates with other countries throughout the world to arrest indicted individuals either in their home countries or, as the Ullings extradition illustrates, in countries where they are traveling, even temporarily, for business or pleasure.

“Thus, foreign antitrust defendants continue to face substantial risk that DOJ will seek their extradition to the US if they do not voluntarily submit to US jurisdiction to face cartel charges.”

He added that the DOJ obtained its first-ever extradition solely on an antitrust charge in April 2014.

Ullings is the seventh foreign executive that DOJ extradited in recent years, and now the second extradition based solely on an antitrust charge.  

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