The salt-mining companies divided the Ohio market, agreeing not to compete for each other’s accounts, and submitting sham bids designed to hide their conspiracy and to exclude other competitors from obtaining state business, the lawsuit said.
The suit seeks an order ending the companies’ contracts with the state and repayment of “ill-gotten gains” up to $50 million to the Ohio Department of Transportation.
A.G. DeWine said in a news release that the lawsuit reflects his commitment to ensuring that Ohio taxpayers don’t pay inflated prices because of conspiracies by suppliers.
A report released in January 2011 by the Ohio Inspector General’s office concluded that an anti-competitive alliance between Cargill and Morton forced ODOT to overpay for road salt by $47 million to $59 million over the past decade.
Bidding patterns over that period showed the same company won salt contracts from the same counties year after year, despite significant increases in prices over that time.
Cargill and Morton are the only companies that mine rock salt in Ohio and make it available for commercial sale, locking out other competitors due to “Buy Ohio” laws.
The inspector general also found that Cargill entertained several ODOT and Cleveland-area officials with food, football tickets and golf.