Claxton Poultry Farms of Georgia has been indicted on charges of taking part in “a nationwide conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chicken products” from 2012 through 2019, the Justice Department announced Thursday.
The criminal indictment is the latest development in an ongoing antitrust investigation into broiler industry practices. Pilgrim’s Pride pleaded guilty in February and was sentenced to pay a criminal fine of more than $107 million, after agreeing to pay about $110 million. The company also has agreed to pay $75 million to customers in a separate civil case.
“According to court documents, from at least as early as 2012 until at least 2019, Claxton and co-conspirators, including current President Mikell Fries and current Vice President Scott Brady, conspired to suppress and eliminate competition for sales of broiler chicken products,” DOJ said in a release issued Thursday. The indictment was delivered Wednesday.
“If convicted, Claxton faces a statutory maximum fine for corporations of $100 million,” DOJ said. “The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by victims, if either amount exceeds $100 million.
“As this charge shows, we will not hesitate to prosecute crimes designed to put money in corporate coffers and line executives’ pockets at the expense of everyday Americans, including the hundreds of millions of us who rely on chicken to be an affordable staple food,” said Richard Powers, acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.
Fries and Brady have already been charged and are awaiting trial on antitrust charges along with eight other poultry industry executives. In an order issued April 30, the judge overseeing that case denied them access to detailed evidence on the charges.
Defendants are only entitled to “the general theory of the case” and not “the specific legal theories on which the government might rely,” U.S. District Judge Philip Brimmer said in his order.
“Defendants essentially are asking for every piece of evidence and each legal theory the government will present at trial, but that is not the purpose of a bill of particulars,” he said, referring to a provision in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.
A trial date of Aug. 2 has been set in that case, but the defendants have asked for an October date, citing the “voluminous” documentation produced by the government.
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“To date, the government has produced more than 13.7 million documents,” the defendants said in a motion filed May 5. “Defendants continue to receive oftentimes voluminous discovery from the government on a regular basis, which in turn, affects defense counsel’s legal and factual analysis, defense investigation, consideration of potential experts, and contemplation of pretrial motions.”
According to the indictment in the Claxton case, “It was part of the conspiracy that Claxton … participated in a continuing network of suppliers and co-conspirators, an understood purpose of which was to suppress and eliminate competition through rigging bids and fixing prices and price-related terms for broiler chicken products sold in the United States.”
Claxton did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the indictment.
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