A federal grand jury in the U.S. District Court in Denver, Colorado, returned a superseding indictment charging six additional defendants for their roles in a previously indicted conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chicken products, and containing additional allegations against the previously charged defendants in the same conspiracy, the Department of Justice announced today. The superseding indictment also charges one defendant with making false statements and obstruction of justice.
“The division will not tolerate collusion that inflates prices American shoppers and diners pay for food,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. “Executives who choose collusion over competition will be held to account for schemes that cheat consumers and corrupt our competitive markets. The division will also continue to charge those who knowingly lie to our law enforcement partners and obstruct our investigations — such conduct undermines our criminal justice system and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
“The charges in this ongoing investigation show the commitment of the FBI and our partners to work together to uncover these crimes and hold these individuals responsible,” said James A. Dawson, Acting Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office. “To date, there have been 10 individuals charged for their participation in this conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids. The American people and restaurant owners should not be the ones to pay unnecessary rising costs of food while executives and employees line their pockets.”
“We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners and the Department of Justice to root out corruption that harms consumers and the competitive market,” said Assistant Inspector General for Investigations Scott Kieffer of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Inspector General. “The superseding indictment should serve as a deterrent to those who might contemplate similar criminal actions.”
“We appreciate the ongoing commitment and concerted efforts of our law enforcement partners at the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Commerce, Office of Inspector General to investigate a long-running scheme affecting competition through the rigging of bids and price fixing of broiler chicken products,” said Special Agent-in-Charge Bethanne M. Dinkins of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Office of Inspector General. “During these uncertain times, USDA, OIG will continue to dedicate resources and prioritize work that benefits hard working Americans through competitive prices for agricultural producers and fairness in pricing and quality of agricultural products for consumers.”
The three-count superseding indictment charges 10 executives and employees at major broiler chicken producers for their participation in a conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chicken products from at least 2012 until at least early 2019. Broiler chickens are raised for human consumption and sold to grocers and restaurants. The six additional defendants are Timothy Mulrenin, William Kantola, Jimmie Little, William Lovette, Gary Roberts, and Rickie Blake. Mulrenin was a sales executive at a chicken supplier headquartered in Maryland and a sales executive at a chicken supplier headquartered in Arkansas. Kantola was a sales executive at a chicken supplier headquartered in Illinois. Little was a sales director at a chicken supplier headquartered in Colorado. Lovette was President and Chief Executive Officer at a chicken supplier headquartered in Colorado. Roberts was an employee at a chicken supplier headquartered in North Carolina and a manager and director at a chicken supplier headquartered in Arkansas. Blake was a director and manager at a chicken supplier headquartered in Arkansas.
The previously indicted defendants who were co-conspirators in the same conspiracy and remain charged in the superseding indictment are Jayson Penn, Roger Austin, Mikell Fries, and Scott Brady. All 10 individuals charged were executives or employees of several different companies that supply broiler chicken products in the United States. Finally, defendant Little is charged with one count of making false statements to federal law enforcement agents in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001, and one count of obstruction of justice in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2). The investigation remains ongoing.
An indictment merely alleges that a crime has been committed, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Sherman Act offense charged carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine for individuals. The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by victims if either amount is greater than $1 million. The false statements offense charged carries a statutory maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. The obstruction of justice offense charged carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
This case is the result of an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing, bid rigging, and other anticompetitive conduct in the broiler chicken industry, which is being conducted by the Antitrust Division with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General, Federal Bureau of Investigation Washington Field Office, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General. Anyone with information on price fixing, bid rigging, or other anticompetitive conduct related to the broiler chicken industry should contact the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 1-888-647-3258 or visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.html.