DENVER – A federal judge in Colorado denied requests for acquittal made by 10 defendants in a Department of Justice (DOJ) case of bid rigging and price fixing in the poultry industry. The former poultry executives are facing a new trial after a previous jury failed to reach a verdict on the charges of conspiring to rig bids and fix prices in the broiler chicken industry.
In 2020, federal grand juries indicted Jayson Penn, Roger Austin, Mikell Fries, Scott Brady, Bill Lovette, Timothy Mulrenin, Bill Kantola, Jimmy Little, Gary Roberts, and Rickie Blake for their alleged role in a conspiracy to fix prices for broiler chickens.
The former poultry industry executives argued that there is insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction against them in addition to legal deficiencies in the case. Chief Judge Philip A. Brimmer of the US District Court of Colorado disagreed.
“The Court finds that the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to find that the charged conspiracy existed and that each defendant knowingly joined the conspiracy, knowing of its goal and intending to help accomplish it,” Mr. Brimmer said in his opinion.
Mr. Brimmer said that the testimony of government witness Robbie Bryant, a Pilgrim’s Pride employee, is sufficient to support a finding beyond a reasonable doubt that a conspiracy existed between Pilgrim’s, Koch Foods, Claxton Poultry, Tyson Foods, Mar-Jac Poultry, and George’s Inc., to rig bids and fix prices for broiler chickens.
Mr. Bryant testified that he “received competitor pricing and used that pricing to submit bids to customers and asked others to retrieve competitor pricing.” He also testified to obtaining competitors’ bid pricing. He stated that the purpose of obtaining competitor pricing information “was either to increase prices or limit a decrease in price.”
Mr. Bryant testified that competitors Tyson, George’s, Koch, Claxton, and Mar-Jac, submitted bids in the 2014 Restaurant Supply Chain Solutions (RSCS) negotiations for contracts that covered 2015, 2016, and 2017, and that he witnessed phone calls that Roger Austin, a Pilgrim’s employee, had with Scott Brady of Claxton and Bill Kantola of Koch, a court document stated. Mr. Bryant also witnessed Jason McGuire, also a Pilgrim’s employee, instructing Mr. Austin to provide Pilgrim’s pricing information to the company’s competitors.
“Mr. Bryant said that the result of this information sharing was a price increase for chicken suppliers in the RSCS 2014 negotiations for the entire industry,” the court document said. “Mr. Bryant testified that competitors exchanged prices for the purpose of either raising prices or limiting a decrease in price. Mr. Bryant testified that, in his understanding, there was an agreement between Pilgrim’s, Tyson, Mar-Jac, Koch, Claxton, and George’s in the 2014 RSCS negotiations to raise prices together.”
Mr. Bryant testified that Pilgrim’s, Tyson, George’s, Koch, Claxton, and Mar-Jac shared prices in order to either raise the price on RSCS in 2014, or reduce the expected decrease in the 2017 contract with RSCS. During the trial, Mr. Bryant testified that he was not concerned that Pilgrim’s would be undercut on price or that a competitor would take volume away from Pilgrim’s in the bidding process because in the 2017 RSCS contract negotiations, Mr. Bryant stated, the goal of the conspiracy was to limit the price decrease that was expected.
“Because the Court “do[es] not weigh the evidence or consider the credibility of witnesses …the Court accepts Mr. Bryant’s testimony as true and finds that it is sufficient to support a finding that the charged conspiracy existed between Pilgrim’s, Koch, Claxton, Tyson, Mar-Jac, and George’s to fix prices and rig bids. Accordingly, the Court considers each defendants’ motion within the context that the charged conspiracy existed.”
Lawyers for the DOJ decided to retry the 10 defendants, and a jury trial is set for Feb. 22.