U.S. indicts six more chicken-industry executives over alleged price fixing
By Tom Polansek
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The U.S. government has indicted six other chicken industry executives on alleged price fixing and has expanded antitrust prosecution into its $ 65 billion investigation into the poultry sector.
In June, the Justice Department sued Pilgrim's Pride chief executive, Jayson Penn, and three others on its first criminal investigation against broiler birds, which make up the majority of US chickens.
Court documents filed on Tuesday reveal that former Pilgrim's Pride CEO William Lovette was also charged. Lovette could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, and a company spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
The indictment comes after grocers, retailers and consumers filed a lawsuit alleging Pilgrim's Pride, Tyson Foods and other poultry processors of conspiring to raise broiler prices.
"Executives who choose to collude against competition will be held accountable for systems that defraud consumers and corrupt our competitive markets," said Makan Delrahim, director of antitrust at the Justice Department, in a statement Wednesday.
Penn, who succeeded Lovette as CEO in 2019, pleaded not guilty.
Pilgrim's Pride, largely owned by Brazil-based meat packer JBS SA, said last month Penn left the company and was replaced as CEO by CFO Fabio Sandri.
The court documents allege that industry executives conspired to fix chicken prices from 2012 to 2019.
Sales director Timothy Mulrenin was also charged.
Mulrenin, who was hired by Perdue Farms in 2018, was working at Tyson Foods at the time of the allegations set out in court documents against him. This is evident from the submission and its LinkedIn page. He didn't immediately respond to a message sent through LinkedIn.
Perdue declined to comment.
Tyson said in June that it is cooperating with the Justice Department investigation as part of a corporate leniency program that could protect the company from criminal prosecution.
The latest indictment does not affect Tyson's status in his leniency application, spokesman Gary Mickelson said.
(Reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago and Diane Bartz and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by David Gregorio and Matthew Lewis)
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