Antitrust Law Daily Jury trial set for August in U.S. price fixing suit against poultry industry execs
Friday, June 12, 2020

Jury trial set for August in U.S. price fixing suit against poultry industry execs

By Thomas G. Wolfe, J.D.

Ambitious trial schedule for Pilgrim’s Pride, Claxton Poultry executives includes July 17 "Trial Preparation Conference." Tyson Foods anticipates leniency in the case.

In connection with the Department of Justice Antitrust Division’s criminal action against four chicken producer executives (Jayson Penn, Roger Austin, Mikell Fries, and Scott Brady) for their respective involvement in an alleged price rigging and bid rigging conspiracy concerning broiler chickens, the federal district court in Denver has scheduled a pre-trial conference for July 17 and for a 10-day jury trial beginning August 10. The four defendants have pleaded "not guilty" to the charges (U.S. v. Penn, Case 1:20-cr-00152-PAB).

Earlier in June, a grand jury, empaneled in the federal district court in Denver, charged the chicken producer executives with conspiring to fix prices in restraint of trade. The four defendants are current or former senior executives at two major broiler chicken producers. Broiler chickens are chickens raised to provide meat for human consumption. Jayson Penn is the chief executive officer of Pilgrim’s Pride. Roger Austin also has served as a Pilgrim’s Pride executive. Mikell Fries is the president of Claxton Poultry, and Scott Brady is a vice president at Claxton Poultry and previously had worked at Pilgrim’s Pride.

Among other things, the government alleges that, from 2012 until early 2017, the four executives conspired to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chickens across the United States. Previously, Makan Delrahim, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, alluded to the COVID-19 pandemic and said that the Antitrust Division was committed to prosecuting crimes intended to raise the prices Americans pay for food particularly in times of global crisis.

Commenting on the criminal indictment against one of its current executives and two of if its former employees, Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. stated, "We take this matter very seriously." Asserting that the company is "committed to high ethical standards, governance, and free and open competition ...," Pilgrim’s Pride indicated that it "will continue to fully cooperate with the Department of Justice" in its investigation.

Tyson Foods cooperation. Meanwhile, Tyson Foods, Inc., acknowledged that it is "cooperating with the DOJ as part of its application for leniency under the DOJ’s Corporate Leniency Program." The company was served in April with a grand jury subpoena concerning the Antitrust Division’s "criminal antitrust investigation into the broiler chicken industry." Tyson noted that it "uncovered information in connection with that investigation, which we immediately self-reported to the DOJ." Tyson anticipates that a "formal grant of leniency will mean that neither the company nor any of its employees will face criminal fines, jail time or prosecution"

Upcoming court schedule. In addition to coordinating expert witness arrangements, the Colorado federal trial court, in its June 8, 2020, scheduling order, determined that:

  • pretrial motions must be filed by July 1, 2020;
  • responses to the pretrial motions must be filed by July 8;
  • a "Trial Preparation Conference" is set for July 17; and
  • a 10-day jury trial is set to begin on August 10.

Attorneys: Michael Thomas Koenig, U.S. Department of Justice, for the United States. Anna Tryon Pletcher (O'Melveny & Myers LLP) for Jayson Jeffrey Penn. David Matthew Beller (Recht & Kornfeld, PC) for Mikell Reeve Fries. Bryan B. Lavine (Troutman Sanders LLP) for Scott James Brady. Michael S. Feldberg (Reichman Jorgensen LLP) for Roger Born Austin.

Companies: Claxton Poultry Farms; Pilgrim’s Pride Corp.; Tyson Foods, Inc.

MainStory: TopStory Antitrust AntitrustDivisionNews ColoradoNews Covid19 GCNNews

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