If you purchased a new car a decade ago, you may have felt like you paid more than you should have. You may not have been imagining things. In 2013, officials uncovered a massive global price-fixing conspiracy among major auto parts manufacturers.
This conspiracy to rig higher prices for auto parts affected car pricing for nearly every major auto manufacturer. For years, auto parts manufacturers held clandestine meetings to rig bids and drive up the cost of everything from seat belts to radiators to spark plugs, with the exorbitant costs passed down to the buyer.
Award-winning lawyer Omar Ochoa was right on the front lines of the battle to take down the parts makers who were involved in the collusion. Ochoa currently heads up his own law office, Omar Ochoa Law Firm, but while at a past firm, he was integral to stopping the auto parts conspiracy in its tracks and garnering the largest recovery for indirect purchasers in US history.
A Global Collusion
Trouble began brewing within the auto parts industry over a decade ago, when a competition agency in Japan, a group tasked with regulating competition in certain countries, uncovered possible price-fixing among a handful of Japanese auto parts manufacturers. Much like peeling an onion, once they started digging, the problem only intensified.
“It was a handful of people driving this,” remarks Ochoa. “Yet, the impact was global.”
Antitrust enforcement agencies worldwide became involved in uncovering the layered intricacies of the conspiracy. At the end of an exhaustive investigation, twenty companies were shown to be involved in the conspiracy, and an estimated 5 billion dollars were made selling the parts to automakers. Approximately 25 million car purchases were directly affected by price-fixing.
“The macro effect of this was stunning,” says Ochoa.
Bringing the Conspirators to Justice
Ochoa’s role in bringing about justice for the estimated 25 million car purchasers affected by this scheme was significant.
“I put a lot of time and work into it,” he explains, “But it was a team effort. Three law firms were the leads on the case. I did a lot of the legwork to put the pieces together that determined how widespread this collusion was.”
Ochoa showcases a professional humility when discussing his role in this record-breaking case. Bringing down the parts makers responsible for the conspiracy was a massive team effort, involving multiple law firms, government officials, car manufacturers, and purchasers participating in class action suits. However, one cannot overstate the tremendous effect Ochoa’s extreme effort had on the overall outcome of the case.
For all of his work on this case, Ochoa was awarded the Outstanding Antitrust Litigation Achievement by a Young Lawyer Award from the American Antitrust Institute at a ceremony in Washington, DC. The historic case has been widely documented and cemented Ochoa’s reputation as one to watch as both a young lawyer and Latino man in law.
The conspiracy to rig bids for auto parts affected approximately ten different automakers and managed to fly under the radar for nearly a decade before being uncovered.
“It illustrates how injustice by a few can have a global impact,” says Ochoa.
Once the conspiracy was uncovered, the companies involved began to cooperate with the investigation. This is where Ochoa’s role in the case kicked into high gear. The legwork included managing court filings, hearings, depositions, interviewing employees who admitted to the collusion and gathering information on co-conspirators and their activities.
Ultimately, the twenty companies entangled in the conspiracy agreed to plead guilty and pay over $1.6 billion in fines.
At the time of the plea deals, Eric Holder, US Attorney General, promised a thorough investigation and swift justice.
“We will continue to check under every hood and kick every tire to make sure we put an end to this illegal and destructive conduct,” Holder told Reuters in 2013.
Since opening his own firm, Ochoa has continued the tradition of fighting hard for what is right and just and winning laudable settlements for his clients. His successes have run the gamut from healthcare whistleblower cases to million-dollar settlements for business contract disputes.
In addition, he has prosecuted anti-kickback and Medicare and Medicaid fraud claims against healthcare providers and medical equipment suppliers. Ochoa himself continues to be recognized as one of the best young trial lawyers in the country, much of his work fighting for the “little guy” against unscrupulous companies and organizations.
The child of parents who grew up as migrant laborers and obtained advanced degrees, Ochoa has always valued hard work. The dedication and tenacity he focused on the auto parts conspiracy case have continued with every case he’s pursued since.
“It’s about seeking excellence. It’s wanting to be at the top of my game,” explains Ochoa when discussing the driving force behind his practice, “It’s wanting to be the best lawyer that I can be, giving the best service that I can to our clients. That is my biggest motivator.”