Four executives have been charged for their role in a conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids for chickens, according to the US Department of Justice (DoJ).
A grand jury in Denver, Colorado, indicted Jayson Penn, Roger Austin, Mikell Fries, and Scott Brady, who allegedly “conspired to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chickens across the United States” between early 2012 to early 2017.
Penn is the president and CEO, and Austin is a former vice president of Pilgrim’s Pride, a chicken supplier headquartered in Colorado. Fries is the president and a member of the board, and Brady is a VP at Claxton Poultry, a broiler chicken producer headquartered in Georgia.
Penn, Austin, Fries, and Brady are the first to be charged as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into price-fixing and bid-rigging involving chickens, the DoJ said. The offence charged carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1m fine.
Pilgrim’s Pride said it had been informed about the indictment and is taking the allegations “very seriously”.
“The company is committed to high ethical standards, governance, and free and open competition that benefits both customers and consumers. Pilgrim’s will continue to fully cooperate with the Department of Justice in their investigation,” it said.
The company claims to supply almost one in five of all chickens in the US.
Assistant attorney-general Makan Delrahim of the DoJ’s Antitrust Division said: “Particularly in times of global crisis, the division remains committed to prosecuting crimes intended to raise the prices Americans pay for food.
“Executives who cheat American consumers, restauranteurs, and grocers, and compromise the integrity of our food supply, will be held responsible for their actions.”
Peggy Gustafson, inspector-general of the Department of Commerce, added: “Rigging bids and fixing prices hurts consumers and undermines our economic system.
“We are committed to working with our law enforcement partners to root out those who take advantage of the American public’s trust.”
In 2016, food service firm Maplevale Farms filed a lawsuit in Illinois which claimed Pilgrim’s Pride, and other poultry producers - including Tyson Foods, Sanderson Farms, Perdue Farms had colluded to “fix, raise, maintain, and stabilise” the price of broiler chickens.
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