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US chicken price-fixing—not guilty

US chicken price-fixing—not guilty

Last week’s result finds five current and former employees of Pilgrim’s Pride not guilty, after having already dropping charges against executives with Perdue Farms, Tyson Foods, Koch Foods, Case Farms, and George’s.

[BYLINE] By Andrew Joseph, Farms.com; Image by Xuân Tuấn Anh Đặng from Pixabay

It may have taken a while, but after a third trial—and two mistrials from hung juries, five current and former executives of Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. were found not guilty of federal price fixing within the chicken industry. While a success for the accused, the result is seen as a setback for US President Joe Biden’s administration and its attempt to control the increase of meats.

On July 7, 2022, all five defendants in Denver federal court were found not guilty of conspiring to fix prices from 2012 to 2019: Bill Lovette, retire Chief Executive Officer with Pilgrim's Pride; his successor Jayson Penn and Roger Austin, Sales Executive; Claxton Poultry President Mikell Fries, and Sales Executive Scott Brady.

After a second trial, the prosecutors dropped charges against other company executives: Timothy Mulrenin, a Perdue Farms Inc. executive who previously worked at Tyson Foods Inc.; William Kantola, an executive with Koch Foods Inc.; Jimmie Lee Little, a former Sales Director with Pilgrim’s Pride; Gary Brian Roberts, a Case Farms employee who had worked at Tyson; and Ric Blake, a former Director and Manager at George’s Inc.

In 2020, the Department of Justice brought charges against those 10 individuals from five of the largest poultry producers in the country, charging them with a conspiracy to rig bids and fix prices of broiler chickens.

In December 2021, after a seven-week trial (the first trial), the jury failed to reach a verdict as to any of the defendants—and the DOJ retried the case.

In April 2022, after a five-week trial (the second trial), hearing testimony from 34 witnesses and reviewing more than 600 trial exhibits, the jury hung again.

This time, Chief Judge Brimmer explained in court a reminder that prosecutors should only pursue cases they believe will result in a conviction. As a result of that, prosecutors dropped charges against the Mulrenin, Kantyola, Little, Roberts, and Blake and insisted on a third trial against the five remaining defendants.

The third trial began in June, and then after one-and-half days of jury deliberation, the five accused were found not guilty.

The O’Melveny team of lawyers representing former Pilgrim’s Pride CEO Jayson Penn was led by partners Michael Tubach and Anna Pletcher, counsel Brian Quinn, Scott Schaeffer, Kelse Moen, and associates Meg Tomlinson, Enoch Ajayi, John Gonzalez, Alex Trabolsi, Melissa Cassel, Chris Philips, and Khadija Syed.

 “The DOJ never should have brought these charges. We are proud to have zealously defended Jayson Penn. And while this result is a long time coming, we are thrilled with the outcome of this unprecedented and unnecessary third trial,” said Tubach.
 
“Notwithstanding the high burden of proof, the DOJ typically comes to federal court with the cards stacked in its favor. And the challenge is even greater with retrials, which notoriously favor the government. This group of defense attorneys fought the odds—three times—and won,” added Pletcher.

The additional defendants in the case were represented by teams from Recht Kornfeld PC, Troutman Pepper, Reichman Jorgensen Lehman & Feldberg LLP, Harris St. Laurent, Moore & Van Allen PLLC, and Eytan Nielsen LLC.

“Trials involve countless strategic and procedural decisions that are difficult enough to make in a single-defendant case, let alone a case with five or ten defendants. These lawyers put their egos aside and worked respectfully, thoughtfully, and tirelessly together to reach consensus on issue after issue,” said Tubach.

“Each team brought different strengths to the collective effort and shared them generously. Some of the attorneys had deep criminal trial experience, some were antitrust experts, some were well-versed in local practice,” continued Pletcher.


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