The Department of Justice’s antitrust division continues to target an investigation into a sprawling chicken industry cartel. In its most recent action, the Justice Department announced an indictment of Koch Foods and four individual Pilgrim’s Pride executives, linking them to the massive price-fixing plot for the sale of broiler chicken products to industries in the catering and retail.
The expanding Justice Department investigation has indicted 14 people and two companies. Pilgrim’s Pride has pleaded guilty and is cooperating. Tysons Foods appears to be the main leniency accused that has escaped any sanction or individual prosecution. The investigation is continuing and further indictments are awaited.
Koch Foods issued a statement rejecting DOJ’s offers to plead guilty and instead reiterating its position denying any involvement in the alleged conspiracy.
The alleged conspiracy took place between 2012 and 2019.
The original indictment returned in June 2020 included Jayson Penn, then chairman and then CEO of Pilgrim’s Pride. In February 2021, Pilgrim’s Pride pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $ 107.9 million in criminal fines and to cooperate with the ongoing investigation. A substitute indictment in October 2021 extended the case to 10 defendants, including William Kantola, senior vice president of Koch Foods.
A separate indictment indicted four leaders of Pilgrim’s Pride: Jason McGuire, a former vice president; Timothy Stiller, former managing director; Wesley “Scott” Tucker, a former national accounts sales manager; and Justin Gay, former director of fresh produce sales.
The Koch Foods indictment describes numerous text messages, phone calls and communications between Koch, Claxton and other companies regarding the prices of various chicken products. Text messages and emails confirm in-depth communications, share pricing information and negotiations with the buyer. Some emails attach a competitor pricing and negotiation status spreadsheet. Regarding the phone calls, the indictment does not include the content of the communications but provides indirect evidence of contacts between the competing companies.
The separate indictment indicting four Pilgrim’s Pride employees describes the extensive communications between the four employees with competitors and the agreement on price points and offers with restaurant chains and grocers nationwide. As in the other indictments, the four employees communicated with each other via text messages, emails and phone conversations.
In a separate question, six of the ten defendants who have already been charged filed motions complaining of lack of access to interview eight people who worked out of Pilgrim’s Pride. The defendants claim that the lack of access to these people hampers their ability to prepare for an upcoming trial. The six defendants claim that the eight employees of Pilgrim’s Pride have exculpatory evidence. The eight people apparently would not speak to the defendants’ attorneys as they could violate the Pilgrim’s Pride plea agreement.