6 more indicted on allegations of poultry industry collusion

Six more people – including former Pilgrim’s Pride CEO Bill Lovette, have been indicted on federal antitrust charges related to allegations they conspired to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chicken products.

Roy Graber Headshot
(perhapzz | Bigstock)
(perhapzz | Bigstock)

Six more people – including former Pilgrim’s Pride CEO Bill Lovette, have been indicted on federal antitrust charges related to allegations they conspired to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chicken products.

In addition, one of the defendants – Jimmie Little – has been charged with making false statements and obstruction of justice.

With these six new indictments, the number of those indicted on antitrust charges reaches 10. Indicted on similar charges in June were Jayson Penn, Roger Austin, Mikell Fries and Scott Brady. Penn, at the time, was the 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.

Pilgrim’s Pride on September 23 announced Penn was no longer with the company and Fabio Sandri, the company’s chief financial officer, was promoted to CEO. Penn succeeded Lovette as the CEO in March 2019.

The three-count superseding indictment charges 10 executives and employees at major broiler chicken producers for their alleged participation in the conspiracy, which the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said occurred from at least 2012 until early 2019.

Newly indicted were Lovette, Timothy Mulrenia, William Kantola, Jimmie Little, Gary Roberts and Rickie Blake.

Little’s LinkedIn profile lists him as a member of the Pilgrim’s Pride sales team, while Kantola’s profile lists him as senior vice president, Foodservice, of Pilgrim’s Pride. Mulrenin’s profile lists him as the director of national account sales for Perdue Farms and a former director of sales for Tyson Foods.

In a press release from the DOJ, Roberts was identified as “an employee at a chicken supplier headquartered in North Carolina and a manager and director at a chicken supplier headquartered in Arkansas." Blake, in the press release, was identified as “a director and manager at a chicken supplier headquartered in Arkansas.”

“The division will not tolerate collusion that inflates prices American shoppers and diners pay for food,” Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division said in the press release. â€śExecutives who choose collusion over competition will be held to account for schemes that cheat consumers and corrupt our competitive markets. The division will also continue to charge those who knowingly lie to our law enforcement partners and obstruct our investigations — such conduct undermines our criminal justice system and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

According to the DOJ, a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine for individuals.  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 false statements offense charge carries a statutory maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. The obstruction of justice offense charged carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

This case, according to the DOJ, is the result of an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in the broiler chicken industry, which is being conducted by the Antitrust Division with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General, Federal Bureau of Investigation Washington Field Office and U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General. The investigation is ongoing, the agency added.

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