A jury in Colorado has acquitted five poultry executives of price-fixing of broiler chicken products from 2012 through 2019.
The jury took about a day and half after receiving instructions from the judge to reach their verdict on the indictment, which charged the men with entering into and engaging “in a continuing combination and conspiracy to suppress and eliminate competition by rigging bids and fixing prices and other price-related terms for broiler chicken products sold in the United States.”
The individuals acquitted are Jayson Penn and William Lovette, both former Pilgrim’s Pride CEOs; Mikell Fries and Scott Brady, president and vice president of Claxton Poultry, respectively; and Roger Austin, a former vice president at Pilgrim’s.
“Obviously, we're very pleased with the verdict,” said Michael Feldberg, an attorney representing Austin. “The jury reached the right result, and justice has been served.”
The Justice Department said in a statement that “although we are disappointed in the verdict, we will continue to vigorously enforce the antitrust laws, especially when it comes to price-fixing schemes that affect core staples. We will not be deterred from continuing to vigilantly pursue cases to protect the American people and our markets.”
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In April, U.S. District Judge Philip Brimmer questioned the wisdom of pursuing a third trial after two previous trials had ended in mistrials because the juries could not reach verdicts.
“We've always maintained there was no evidence that anybody committed a crime,” Feldberg said, calling what happened to Austin ”a nightmare.”
“The major point to stress is the courage of these men, who were confronted by the entire weight of the United States government, and stood firm and maintained their innocence, despite almost overwhelming pressure on them,” Feldberg said. “They are brave, they're courageous, and they're heroes. And finally, they were vindicated.”
The department has two other chicken price-fixing cases pending in the same district court.
DOJ had dropped charges in April against five other executives and promised a “streamlined” trial. The trial ended up lasting about a month.
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