The Justice Department’s inquiry into poultry sector price fixing has resulted in new indictments against Illinois-based Koch Foods and four Pilgrim’s Pride executives.
According to a DOJ press release, the indictments returned allege a conspiracy “to suppress and eliminate competition for sales of broiler chicken products.” The four new Pilgrim’s Pride executives — Jason McGuire, a former executive vice president of sales for prepared foods; Timothy Stiller, a former general manager of fresh food services and small bird debone; Wesley “Scott” Tucker, a national accounts sales executive; and Justin Gay, director of fresh foodservice sales — brings the total to 14 individuals charged in the case.
In addition to Koch, additional companies have also faced indictments. Georgia-based Claxton Poultry was indicted in May (DOJ says Thursday’s indictment supersedes that indictment), and Pilgrim’s Pride agreed in February to plead guilty and pay a criminal fine of $107 million for its role in the conspiracy.
“As today’s charges show, the division remains committed to holding both individuals and companies accountable when they choose profits over following the law,” Richard Powers, acting assistant attorney general of DOJ’s Antitrust Division, said in a statement. “Our investigation into criminal price fixing of broiler chickens continues, and we will not stop until we ensure that wrongdoers are held accountable and competition is restored to this critical industry.”
A spokesperson for Pilgrim's Pride said the company is "committed to upholding high ethical standards in full compliance with U.S. antitrust laws.
"We are aware of an indictment against former employees no longer affiliated with the company. Pilgrim’s continues to fully cooperate with the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation, and we remain committed to fair and honest competition that benefits both customers and consumers."
In a statement posted to the Koch Foods website, the company said it “steadfastly denies that it or any of its employees engaged in price fixing.
“During DOJ’s lengthy investigation, it has repeatedly asked Koch to plead guilty, and has suggested that any punishment would potentially be lessened if Koch did that,” the company said. “We are aware that this would certainly be the easiest way to resolve this case. However, we have very carefully considered this option and in good conscience cannot agree.
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“Koch has seen no evidence to date that it or any of its employees have committed any crime. Pleading guilty, then, is more than a matter of paying a fine or admitting a violation of the law — it is an admission of a violation of Koch’s integrity and core values,” it added. “We do not take this lightly. While it will require extraordinary resources to have our day in court, Koch feels that it must vigorously defend itself against DOJ’s allegations.”
DOJ says Koch Foods and the Pilgrim’s Pride executives are charged with violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act. McGuire, Stiller, Tucker and Gay will make their initial court appearances Aug. 11; court proceedings for Koch have not yet been scheduled. Sherman Act violations carry a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine for individuals and a $100 million fine for corporations, but the maximum fines may be increased if the losses suffered by victims exceed the statutory maximums.
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