The charges are the first in a DOJ investigation involving several other major chicken producers including Pilgrim’s Pride, based in Colorado, and Claxton Poultry Farms in Georgia.
“Executives who cheat American consumers, restaurateurs and grocers, and compromise the integrity of our food supply, will be held responsible for their actions,” said Makan Delrahim, assistant attorney general, DOJ’s Antitrust Division.
Jayson Penn, CEO/president, Pilgrim’s Pride and Roger Austin, the company’s former VP were indicted. Also charged were Mikell Fries and Scott Brady, president and vice president of Georgia-based Claxton Poultry Farms.
The four men allegedly participated in a "network of suppliers and co-conspirators" with the aim of fixing prices and rigging bids for chicken sales across the US from 2012 to 2017, according to the indictment. The network allegedly took actions such as agreeing upon and submitting similar bids for pricing terms, including discount levels.
Each executive faces one count of price-fixing, with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1m fine, which could be raised if ill-gotten gains or losses to victims are found to be higher than $1m.
“Tyson Foods is committed to competing vigorously, honestly and in compliance with the letter and the spirit of the antitrust laws and respects the important role that the Department of Justice plays in enforcing these laws,” Tyson Foods said in a statement.
US grand jury
“On April 26, 2019, Tyson was served with a grand jury subpoena from the Antitrust Division of the DOJ concerning a criminal antitrust investigation into the broiler chicken industry. Tyson uncovered information in connection with that investigation, which we immediately self-reported to the DOJ.
“Tyson took appropriate actions to address the internal issues and has been fully cooperating with the DOJ as part of its application for leniency under the DOJ’s Corporate Leniency Program.
“A formal grant of leniency will mean that neither the company nor any of its employees will face criminal fines, jail time or prosecution.
“Our swift and decisive actions demonstrate our steadfast commitment to treating suppliers, customers and partners with integrity and to fostering a free and fair competitive environment that not only benefits consumers but makes Tyson Foods better.”
The Department of Justice said in a statement that the criminal investigation into price fixing is still ongoing Pilgrim’s Pride and Claxton poultry Farms are yet to comment on the allegations.
Tyson Foods, Inc. founded by John W. Tyson in 1935, is one of the world’s largest food companies with a portfolio of including Jimmy Dean, Hillshire Farm, Ball Park, and Aidells.
Based in Springdale, Arkansas, the company has 141,000 employees.