The third federal trial for five past and present poultry industry executives ended with a verdict in which all five defendants were found not guilty.
The acquittal happened on July 7, in which the following five people were found innocent of federal antitrust charges: former Pilgrim’s Pride CEOs Jayson Penn and Bill Lovette, Claxton Poultry President Mikell Fries, Claxton Poultry Vice President Scott Brady, and former Pilgrim’s Pride Vice President Roger Austin.
The men had been accused of sharing information as part of a conspiracy to rig bids and drive up the price of chicken. Each defendant was charged with a single count of conspiracy to restrain trade, which, had they been found guilty, would have carried a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Two previous trials had been held trying those five people, as well as Timothy Mulrenin, an executive with Perdue Farms who formerly worked for Tyson Foods; William Kantola, an executive with Koch Foods; Jimmie Little, a former Pilgrim’s Pride sales director; Rickie Blake, a former director and manager at George’s; and Gary Roberts, a Case Farms employee and former Tyson Foods employee. However, charges against those five people were dropped while federal prosecutors focused their efforts on trying Penn, Lovette, Fries, Brady and Austin.
In a statement issued to Bloomberg, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said: “Although we are disappointed in the verdict, we will continue to vigorously enforce the antitrust laws, especially when it comes to price-fixing schemes that affect core staples. We will not be deterred from continuing to vigilantly pursue cases to protect the American people and our markets.”
The investigation that led up to the trials was conducted by the DOJ’s 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.