Pilgrim’s Pride is First Company to Plead Guilty in Antitrust Criminal Lawsuit

Pilgrim’s Pride pled guilty in a District of Colorado criminal lawsuit to price-fixing allegations. The broiler chicken producer was issued a $107.9 million criminal fine. The United States Department of Justice announced the criminal fine on Tuesday

According to the press release, Pilgrim’s Pride is the first corporation to plead guilty in the criminal antitrust investigation. The plea agreement reportedly says that the price-fixing conspiracy began as early as 2012 and lasted until at least 2017. The DOJ said that the conspiracy, which included eliminating competition, affected over $361 million in sales from Pilgrim’s Pride. In accordance with the Sherman Act, a company can be charged a maximum fine of $100 million, but the amount can be increased to up to twice the company’s cane from the conspiracy or twice the victim’s loss if either is greater. 

“Today’s guilty plea demonstrates our unwavering commitment to prosecuting companies that violate the nation’s antitrust laws, especially when it involves something as central to everyday life as the food we eat,” said Richard Powers, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division in the press release. 

Broiler chickens are raised to be used for meat and are sold to restaurants and grocers after processing. The DOJ reported that the investigation is ongoing, citing that 10 executives or employees at major chicken processing companies have been charged in the matter. 

“When competitor companies conspire to set prices that benefit themselves, American consumers are cheated. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to pursue such illegal activity and ensure perpetrators are held accountable,” said Peggy E. Gustafson, Inspector General of the Department of Commerce. 

On the same day, the Northern District of Illinois Judge Thomas Durkin approved a settlement for the company along with its competitor Tyson Foods regarding some of the civil lawsuits against it for the same alleged activity. In this settlement, Pilgrim’s Pride and Tyson Foods agreed to pay $155 million together to settle with the direct purchaser class of plaintiffs. The minute entry noted that the settlement was granted with modifications which were discussed in the telephonic hearing on Tuesday.