Further charges in chicken price-fixing probe

Further charges in chicken price-fixing probe

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has indicted six additional individuals in its ongoing investigation into broiler chicken price-fixing.

In a statement issued yesterday (7 October), it revealed a federal grand jury in the US District Court in Denver, Colorado, has returned a superseding indictment charging six additional defendants for their roles in a previously-indicted conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chicken products. 

The indictment also charges one defendant with making false statements and obstruction of justice. 

The charges come after grocers, retailers and consumers filed a lawsuit accusing Pilgrim's Pride, Tyson Foods and other poultry processors of conspiring to inflate prices for broiler chickens.

The six additional individuals indicted are Timothy Mulrenin, William Kantola, Jimmie Little, William Lovette, Gary Roberts, and Rickie Blake.  

The indictment did not name the companies the individuals worked for at the time of the alleged offences but Lovette is a former CEO of Pilgrim's Pride and Little a former sales executive at the same company.

In June, the DoJ indicted Pilgrim's Pride chief executive Jayson Penn and three others – Roger Austin, Mikell Fries, and Scott Brady – in its first charges in the criminal probe.

Penn, who succeeded Lovette as CEO in 2019, has pleaded not guilty.

Pilgrim's Pride, majority-owned by Brazilian meat giant JBS, said last month that Penn had left the company and had been replaced as CEO by CFO Fabio Sandri.

Speaking after the additional indictments were announced yesterday, assistant attorney general Makan Delrahim of the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division, said: "The division will not tolerate collusion that inflates prices American shoppers and diners pay for food.

"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 indictment now charges ten executives and employees at major broiler chicken producers for their participation in an alleged conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chicken products from at least 2012 until at least early 2019.  

Defendant Little, who worked in sales at Pilgrim's Pride from April 2000 to October 2017, is also charged with one count of making false statements to federal law enforcement agents and one count of obstruction of justice. 

just-food has contacted Pilgrim's Pride in relation to the charges against former CEO Lovette and former sales executive Little. 

US meat giant Tyson Foods said in June it is co-operating with the investigation in return for leniency.