Tyson Foods Inc. this week addressed its role in the recent indictment by the antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which is charging multiple executives of other companies in the broiler chicken industry, including the chief executive officer of Pilgrim’s Pride, for their alleged role in a conspiracy to “fix prices and rig bids."
“Tyson Foods is committed to competing vigorously, honestly and in compliance with the letter and the spirit of the antitrust laws and respects the important role that the Department of Justice plays in enforcing these laws,” the company said in a statement. “On April 26, 2019, Tyson was served with a grand jury subpoena from the antitrust division of the DOJ concerning a criminal antitrust investigation into the broiler chicken industry. Tyson uncovered information in connection with that investigation, which we immediately self-reported to the DOJ.”
Tyson further noted that it took appropriate actions to address the internal issues and has been fully cooperating with DOJ as part of its application for leniency under the agency’s Corporate Leniency Program.
“A formal grant of leniency will mean that neither the company nor any of its employees will face criminal fines, jail time or prosecution,” the company said. “Our swift and decisive actions demonstrate our steadfast commitment to treating suppliers, customers and partners with integrity and to fostering a free and fair competitive environment that not only benefits consumers but makes Tyson Foods better.”
Last week, a federal grand jury in U.S. district court in Denver, Colo., returned an indictment against four executives, including current Pilgrim’s Pride CEO and president Jayson Penn, for alleged price fixing.
According to the indictment, from at least as early as 2012 until at least early 2017, Penn, Roger Austin, Mikell Fries and Scott Brady, together with co-conspirators “known and unknown to the grand jury,” allegedly conspired to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chickens across the U.S. During that time frame, Penn was an employee at a supplier but was hired as president and CEO of Pilgrim’s Pride in March 2019. Austin is a former vice president of Pilgrim’s. Fries is the president and a member of the board, and Brady is vice president of Claxton Poultry Farms headquartered in Georgia.
Penn, Austin, Fries and Brady are the first to be charged in an ongoing criminal investigation into price fixing and bid rigging involving broiler chickens, DOJ said.
The offense charged carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by victims if either amount is greater than $1 million.
Pilgrim’s issued a statement on the matter, saying, “We take this matter very seriously. The company is committed to high ethical standards, governance and free and open competition that benefits both customers and consumers.”
The company added that it will continue to fully cooperate with DOJ in its investigation.