The chief executive of one of the country’s biggest chicken producers and three other industry executives were indicted Wednesday on charges they conspired to fix prices on chicken sold to restaurants and grocery stores, the Justice Department’s first charges in a continuing criminal antitrust probe.
Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. CEO Jayson Penn and a former company vice president, Roger Austin, were charged in the one-count indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in Denver. Colorado-based Pilgrim’s, majority owned by Brazilian meat conglomerate JBS SA, is the nation’s second-largest chicken producer.
Also charged were the president of Georgia-based Claxton Poultry Farms, Mikell Fries, and a vice president, Scott Brady.
The indictment, filled with alleged instances of cozy discussions about pricing and text messages about holding the line on bids to customers, charged the executives with colluding to fix prices and rig bids from 2012 to 2017. The charges also referenced other unnamed executives and chicken suppliers and suggested the sharing of pricing information extended beyond the alleged discussions between Pilgrim’s and Claxton.