The indictments allege that chicken producer Pilgrim’s Pride former executives Jason McGuire, Timothy Stiller, Wesley "Scott" Tucker and Justin Gay conspired to suppress competition for sales of broiler chickens, or chickens that are raised specifically for meat production and sold to grocers and restaurants, and were charged with violating the Sherman Act, according to the DOJ.
"As today’s charges show, the division remains committed to holding both individuals and companies accountable when they choose profits over following the law," acting Assistant Attorney General Richard A. Powers of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division said in a Thursday statement.
He added that the division's "investigation into criminal price fixing of broiler chickens continues" and will not stop until the DOJ can "ensure that wrongdoers are held accountable and competition is restored to this critical industry."
A Pilgrim's Pride spokesperson said in a statement that the company "is committed to upholding high ethical standards in full compliance with U.S. antitrust laws."
"We are aware of an indictment against former employees no longer affiliated with the company," the spokesperson said. "Pilgrim’s continues to fully cooperate with the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation, and we remain committed to fair and honest competition that benefits both customers and consumers."
Koch Foods senior vice president William Kantola was one of 10 individuals charged in October of 2020 for their roles in the same conspiracy, which began in 2012 and lasted until 2019, the DOJ reported.
Pilgrim's Pride, which is based in Colorado, pleaded guilty to the conspiracy in February of 2021, and a court ordered the company to pay a fine of $107 million.
According to the company's plea agreement, from as early as 2012 and continuing at least into 2017, Pilgrim’s role in the conspiracy affected at least $361 million in Pilgrim’s sales of broiler chicken products.
Pilgrim's Pride also previously agreed to pay chicken buyers $75 million to settle an antitrust lawsuit, according to an 8K filing in January. However, the company did not admit any liability, adding that it believes the settlements were in the best interests of the company and its shareholders.
"Price fixing is not a victimless crime, and the illegal actions taken by these companies and individuals in the broiler chicken industry have had a direct and negative impact on the American consumer," said Steven M. D’Antuono, assistant director in charge of the FBI Washington Field Office. "The FBI is committed to pursuing those who violate antitrust laws, harming the nation’s free and competitive marketplace all for their own monetary gain."
McDonald's may have been victims of the conspiracy, and Insider reported in April suggested the fast-food chain would pursue damages against Tyson and Pilgrim's Pride based on an internal memo obtained by the outlet.
FOX Business' Lucas Manfredi contributed to this report.