Six more people, including the former CEO of Pilgrim’s Pride, have been indicted in an ongoing criminal investigation of price fixing and bid rigging in the chicken industry.
The Justice Department announced the new indictment Wednesday, which supersedes an indictment returned by a grand jury in June charging four executives of Pilgrim’s Pride and Claxton Poultry Farms with conspiracy to restrain trade.
One of the new defendants is William Lovette, who was president and CEO of Pilgrim’s Pride until he was replaced last year by Jayson Penn, who was named in the original indictment. Penn, who was put on leave in June, left the company last month.
The superseding indictment alleges the six new defendants were part of the same conspiracy and charges one of them with making false statements and obstruction of justice.
“The division will not tolerate collusion that inflates prices American shoppers and diners pay for food,” Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division said. “Executives who choose collusion over competition will be held to account for schemes that cheat consumers and corrupt our competitive markets.”
And Bethanne Dinkins, special agent-in-charge at USDA’s Office of Inspector General, said, “We appreciate the ongoing commitment and concerted efforts of our law enforcement partners at the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Commerce, Office of Inspector General to investigate a long-running scheme affecting competition through the rigging of bids and price fixing of broiler chicken products.”
Besides Lovette, the new defendants are Timothy Mulrenin, William Kantola, Jimmie Little, Gary Roberts, and Rickie Blake.
DOJ identified the new defendants as follows. It did not identify the companies:
- Mulrenin: A sales executive at a chicken supplier headquartered in Maryland and a sales executive at a chicken supplier headquartered in Arkansas. (Mulrenin's LinkedIn page lists him as director of national account sales at Perdue Farms since May 2018. Before that, he was at Tyson Foods for about 11 years, the last four as director of sales.)
- Kantola: A sales executive at a chicken supplier headquartered in Illinois.
- Little: A sales director at a chicken supplier headquartered in Colorado. (LinkedIn shows him as being in sales at Pilgrim's Pride.)
- Roberts: An employee at a chicken supplier headquartered in North Carolina and a manager and director at a chicken supplier headquartered in Arkansas.
- Blake: A director and manager at a chicken supplier headquartered in Arkansas.
The new indictment says Little told special agents of the Department of Commerce and the FBI in an Aug. 31 interview that he “had no contact with individuals at competing suppliers outside of speaking to the individuals at industry trade shows.”
Interested in more coverage and insights? Receive a free month of Agri-Pulse.
But “the statements were false,” the indictment said. “As Little then and there knew, he indeed had contact with individuals at competing suppliers outside of trade shows, and had called and sent text messages to individuals at competing suppliers.”
The indictment also charges Little with obstruction of justice in connection with that interview because of the pending investigation and the prosecution of the four previously indicted defendants, as well as his own “about-to-be-instituted” prosecution.
Perdue said it could not comment on ongoing litigation. Tyson Foods said it had no comment, but referred back to its statement in June that it “has been fully cooperating with the DOJ as part of its application for leniency under the DOJ’s Corporate Leniency Program.” JBS/Pilgrim’s Pride did not immediately return an email requesting comment.
For more news, go to www.Agri-Pulse.com