New Indictments In DOJ Chicken Price-Fixing Probe

The Department of Justice announced six new chicken-industry defendants in its ongoing investigation into price-fixing and bid rigging for broiler chicken products.

In June, DOJ indicted four executives in its first charges in the criminal probe. On Tuesday, a federal grand jury in the U.S. District Court in Denver, CO, returned a superseding indictment against six more for their roles in the alleged activity, and containing additional allegations against the previously charged defendants in the same conspiracy. The superseding indictment also charges one defendant with making false statements and obstruction of justice.

The June indictments were filed against Pilgrim’s Pride CEO Jayson Penn, former Pilgrim’s Pride vice president Roger Austin, Mikell Fries, president of Claxton Poultry and Scott Brady, vice president of Claxton Poultry. Pilgrim’s Pride, headquartered in Greeley, CO, claims to produce 20% of all chicken consumed in the U.S., and its parent company is JBS S.A.

The six defendants named this week are: former Pilgrim’s Pride CEO William Lovette; Timothy Mulrenin, director of national account sales for Perdue Farms, and formerly Tyson Foods’ director of sales; William Kantola, Pilgrim’s Pride; Jimmie Little, Pilgrim’s Pride; Gary Roberts, who was an employee at a chicken supplier headquartered in North Carolina and a manager and director at a chicken supplier headquartered in Arkansas; and Rickie Blake, who was a director and manager at a chicken supplier headquartered in Arkansas.

The documents allege that industry executives conspired to fix prices from 2012 through 2019.

The indictments come after grocers, retailers and consumers filed a lawsuit accusing Pilgrim's Pride, Tyson and other poultry processors of conspiring to inflate prices for broiler chickens. The companies have denied the allegations.

Finally, defendant Little is charged with one count of making false statements to federal law enforcement agents in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001, and one count of obstruction of justice in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2).  The investigation remains ongoing.    

“The division will not tolerate collusion that inflates prices American shoppers and diners pay for food,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  “Executives 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.”

“The charges in this ongoing investigation show the commitment of the FBI and our partners to work together to uncover these crimes and hold these individuals responsible,” said James A. Dawson, Acting Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office.  “To date, there have been 10 individuals charged for their participation in this conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids.  The American people and restaurant owners should not be the ones to pay unnecessary rising costs of food while executives and employees line their pockets.”