One of the nation’s largest chicken processors has agreed to a plead deal after two executives were indicted for price-fixing charges earlier this year. Pilgrim’s Pride, the nation’s second-largest chicken processor, agreed to a $110.5 million fine with the U.S. Department of Justice in their role to mark up prices of poultry which it then passed along to consumers and businesses.
In exchange for the deal, which officials say affected three contracts for sale of chicken products to one customer in the U.S., the DOJ would not bring further charges against the company or recommend a monitor or any probationary period. However, the deal must still be approved by the U.S. District Court in Colorado.
In June, a federal grand jury in the U.S. District Court in Denver, Colorado, returned an indictment against Jayson Penn, then president and CEO of the company, along with former Pilgrim’s Pride Vice President Roger Austin, for their role in a conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chickens across the nation from at least as early as 2012 until 2017. Additionally indicted were Claxton Poultry President Mikell Fries and Vice President Scott Brady.
Penn has been listed as on a leave of absence since the indictment and has been replaced by Fabio Sandri, who was previously the company’s chief financial officer.
“Pilgrim’s is committed to fair and honest competition in compliance with U.S. antitrust laws,” said Fabio Sandri, Pilgrim’s CEO in a statement. “We are encouraged that today’s agreement concludes the Antitrust Division’s investigation into Pilgrim’s, providing certainty regarding this matter to our team members, suppliers, customers and shareholders.”
On October 14, the DOJ indicted six additional industry executives under charges which alleged that all 10 conspired to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chicken products from 2012 to early last year. The defendants in the new indictment include William Lovette, who preceded Penn as CEO of Pilgrim’s Pride, along with Timothy Mulrenin and Gary Roberts, two former Tyson employees (Tyson was not named in the indictment), Rickie Blake, William Kantola and Jimmie Little. Little will be facing an additional charge for making false statements to federal law enforcement and one count of obstruction of justice.
All defendants have pleaded not guilty. Penn’s trial is scheduled to begin on Feb. 16, 2021 in Denver.
Mostly owned by Brazilian meat packer JBS SA, Pilgrim’s Pride is the nation’s second-largest supplier of broiler chickens behind Tyson Foods. Pilgrim’s Pride’s largest customers include the wholesaler Costco and the fast-food chain KFC. Broiler chickens are bred and raised specifically for meat production and account for nearly all the chicken meat sold in the United States.
The plea deal money is to be listed as a “miscellaneous expense” in its next quarterly report according to a release by the company.
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