Four current and former executives of chicken suppliers were indicted on charges of conspiring to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chickens sold to grocers and restaurants, the U.S. Department of Justice announced this week.
From at least as early as 2012 until at least early 2017, the defendants conspired to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chickens across the U.S., the indictment alleged.
“Particularly in times of global crisis, the division remains committed to prosecuting crimes intended to raise the prices Americans pay for food,” Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of DOJ’s Antitrust Division said in a news release. “Executives who cheat American consumers, restauranteurs, and grocers, and compromise the integrity of our food supply, will be held responsible for their actions.”
It's possible executives from other chicken producers could be indicted since DOJ reported the four defendants “are the first to be charged in an ongoing criminal investigation into price fixing and bid rigging involving broiler chickens.” The executives were charged with violating Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, which prohibits activities that unreasonably restrain interstate and foreign trade.
Among the executives indicted by a federal grand jury in Denver: Jayson Penn, CEO of Pilgrim’s, a Colorado-based chicken supplier with sales of $3.07 billion in the first quarter of 2020. The grand jury also indicted Roger Austin, a former vice president of Pilgrim’s; as well as Mikell Fries and Scott Brady, two executives with Claxton Poultry Farms, a broiler chicken producer based in Georgia.
The defendants could each face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and $1 million fine if convicted in a case stemming from an antitrust probe “into price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in the broiler chicken industry,” according to DOJ’s news release.
Responding to the indictment in a statement on its website, Pilgrim’s noted it takes the “matter very seriously” and “is committed to high ethical standards, governance, and free and open competition that benefits both customers and consumers.”
Mike Goodwin, a spokesman for Claxton Poultry Farms, described the allegations attributed to the company as “without merit,” and he said “we intend to vigorously defend our company and its good name as this process moves forward."
“We will not comment further on the allegations other than to say that since our small start in 1949, we have adhered to the highest standards of food quality, professionalism, integrity and good faith in all our operations,” he added in an email.
Lawyers representing Penn did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The other defendants did not have counsel listed on the federal court docket as of early Friday, June 5.