The Justice Department announced a major expansion of its ongoing investigation and prosecution of executives and employees in the boiler chicken price-fixing conspiracy.
DOJ recently returned a superseding indictment adding six new defendants to the boiler chicken conspiracy indictment, and expanding the scope of the charged conspiracy. (Here for earlier Posting on conspiracy).
The new indictment charges ten (10) executives and employees at boiler chicken producers for their role in a conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids for chicken products. The six additional individuals are Timothy Mulrenin, William Kantola, Jimmie Little, William Lovette, Gary Roberts and Rickie Blake.
The new indictment adds six defendants to the price-fixing conspiracy in the $65 billion poultry industry. In addition, the new indictment expands the period of the charged conspiracy to 2012 to 2019.
The new defendants include Bill Lovette, the former CEO of Pilgrim’s Pride, the second largest US chicken supplier. Jason Penn, Pilgrim’s current CEO, was charged in the original indictment in June. Pilgrim’s Vice President Roger Austin and Claxton’s President Mikell Fries and Scott Brady, a President, were also charged in the original June 2020 indictment.
The new defendants include executives and employees from companies involved in the price-fixing conspiracy: Timothy Mulrenin is a sales executive at Perdue Farms, who previously worked at Tyson; William Kantola is a sales executive at Koch Foods, Inc.; Jimmie Little is former sales director at Pilgrim’s Pride; Gary Brian Roberts is an employee at Case Farms who previously worked at Tyson; and Rickie Blake, a former director and manager at George’s Inc. Jimmie Little is also charged with making false statements to law enforcement agents and obstruction of justice.
The price-fixing conspiracy operated in the chicken industry responsible for supplying billions of pounds of chicken nuggets, breast filets, thighs and wings to US restaurant chains and grocery stores.
The six additional defendants join four senior industry executives from Pilgrim’s Pride and Claxton Poultry Farms who were allegedly engaged in a long-running conspiracy to exchange pricing information and agree on bids submitted for chicken supply deals for major restaurant chains.
Tyson Foods was one of the earliest cooperators in the government investigation and reported the conspiracy after DOJ initiated an investigation in response to a then-pending civil proceeding. Tyson is cooperating under DOJ’s antitrust criminal leniency program.
DOJ’s criminal investigation began in 2019 after it intervened in a price-fixing lawsuit filed in 2016. The class action lawsuit accuses chicken producers, including Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue Farms, Tyson Foods and Sanderson Farms, of engaging in conspiracy to fix and increase chicken prices.
The new indictment details incidents where the defendants communicated with each other and discussed pricing information and agreed on responses to negotiations with chicken customers.
If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum term of imprisonment of ten (10) years imprisonment and a fine of $1 million.