A federal grand jury in a U.S. District Court in Colorado has indicted four current and former senior executives from two major American chicken companies for their role in conspiring to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chickens.
“Executives who cheat American consumers, restauranteurs, and grocers, and compromise that integrity of our food supply, will be held responsible for their actions,” states Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim in a release from the U.S. Department of Justice on June 3.
Broiler chickens are chickens raised for meat, which is sold to grocers and restaurants.
According to the indictment, Jayson Penn, Roger Austin, Mikell Fries, and Scott Brady conspired to fix prices for broiler chickens across the U.S. from at least as early as 2012 until at least early 2017.
Penn is the president and CEO of Pilgrim’s Pride, the large Colorado-based poultry company which is majority owned by JBS. Austin is the former vice-president of Pilgrim’s Pride. Meanwhile, Fries is the president and a member of the board, while Brady is a vice president, of Claxton Poultry — a broiler chicken producer headquartered in Georgia.
The offence carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The Department of Justice notes the maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by victims if either amount is greater than $1 million, if proven guilty.
The four are the first to be charged in an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing in the U.S. broiler chicken industry, which is being conducted by the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice with the assistance from the FBI, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and U.S. Department of Agriculture.