Pilgrim’s, Claxton Poultry leaders face antitrust charges

Four poultry industry executives have been indicted on charges for involvement in an alleged conspiracy to fix broiler chicken prices, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced.

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BCFC | Bigstockphoto.com
BCFC | Bigstockphoto.com

Four poultry industry executives have been indicted on charges for involvement in an alleged conspiracy to fix broiler chicken prices, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced.

According to a press release from the DOJ, The U.S. District Court in Denver, Colorado, returned an indictment against Jayson Penn, Roger Austin, Mikell Fries and Scott Brady. Penn is the global CEO of Pilgrim’s Pride, while Austin is a former vice president of the company. Fries is the president of Claxton Poultry, while Brady is a vice president.

“Particularly in times of global crisis, the (DOJ antitrust) division remains committed to prosecuting crimes intended to raise the prices Americans pay for food,” Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim. “Executives who cheat American consumers, restaurateurs and grocers, and compromise the integrity of our food supply will be held responsible for their actions.”

According to the indictment, the four suspects allegedly conspired to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chickens across the United States, from as early as 2012 until at least early 2017.

If the suspects are convicted of the alleged crimes, each would face a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by victims if either amount is greater than $1 million.

The case is a result of an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing, bid rigging and other alleged anticompetitive conduct in the broiler chicken industry. The DOJ’s Antitrust Division was assisted by the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of the Inspector General, Federal Bureau of Investigation Washington Field Office and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General.

The DOJ, in its release, hinted that more indictments could be coming, saying Penn, Austin, Fries and Brady are “the first” to be charged in the ongoing criminal investigation.

Following numerous lawsuits of alleged U.S. poultry industry collusion to fix the price of chicken, the DOJ filed a motion in June 2019 to intervene in those cases and investigate the claims of the lawsuits, filed largely on behalf of supermarket chains.

In addition to Pilgrim’s Pride and Claxton Poultry, other U.S. poultry companies named as defendants in such suits include Tyson Foods, Perdue Farms, Koch Foods, Sanderson Farms, Wayne Farms, Foster Farms, Mar-Jac Poultry, Fieldale Farms, Harrison Poultry, Peco Foods, Simmons Foods, Mountaire Farms, JCG Foods, House of Raeford Farms, George’s and O.K. Foods.

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