Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. pled guilty February 23 for its part in a conspiracy to fix prices for broiler chickens. The U.S. District Court in Denver, Colorado accepted Pilgrim’s Guilty plea and sentenced it to pay $107,923,572 in fines. Executives from the company conspired with other broiler chicken companies to fix prices before selling the chickens to grocery stores, restaurants, and other consumers.
According to Justice Department prosecutors, the conspiracy affected at least $361 million in Pilgrim’s sales since 2008. The Justice Department and Pilgrim’s Pride originally agreed in October 2020 on a payment of more than $110 million in fines, but Judge Raymond Moore issued the smaller figure based on the company’s “substantial assistance.”
Richard Powers, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, said the guilty plea demonstrates the government’s “unwavering commitment to prosecuting companies that violate the nation’s antitrust laws, especially when it involves something as central to everyday life as the food we eat.”
The ongoing investigation has thus far led the government to charge 10 individuals for their roles in the price-fixing ring, all 10 of whom have plead not guilty, including former Pilgrim’s Pride CEOs Jayson Penn and Bill Lovette and former sales executives William Kantola and Jimmie Little.
Other companies implicated by the investigation include Perdue Farms, Inc., Claxton Poultry, and Sanderson Farms, Inc. One of the individuals charged by the Justice Department, Timothy Mulrenin, was CEO of Tyson Foods Inc. when the alleged acts took place. Tyson has said it is currently cooperating with the Justice Department as part of a corporate leniency program that shields current executives from criminal fines and jail time, but not the former CEO prosecutors allege was a part of the scheme.
Both Tyson Foods and Pilgrim’s Pride have already paid to settle claims from plaintiffs in Chicago, including grocery stores Kroger Co. and Walmart Inc. as well as Chick-fil-A: Tyson Foods paid $221.5 million and Pilgrim’s Pride paid $75 million.
The investigation into anticompetitive activity in the broiler chicken market is being conducted by the Justice Department’s Antitrust division alongside agents from the Department of Commerce, the FBI, and the Department of Agriculture.
“Today’s plea is another example of the FBI’s ongoing work to eliminate bid rigging and price fixing and hold those conducting these activities accountable for their actions,” said Steven D’Antuono, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “The FBI is committed to continuing this important work alongside the Department of Justice and our partners.”