Pilgrim’s Pride Reaches Plea Agreement With Justice Department on Chicken Price-Fixing Allegations
Chicken giant Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. said it has agreed to a plea deal with the U.S. Justice Department to resolve price-fixing charges, and will pay a fine of $110.5 million.
鸡肉巨头Pilgrim‘s Pride Corp.表示，它已同意与美国司法部达成认罪协议，以解决操纵价格的指控，并将支付1.105亿美元的罚款。
A guilty plea by the second-largest U.S. chicken processor by sales will make Pilgrim’s the first company to admit in court to what prosecutors have alleged was a roughly seven-year effort across much of the U.S. chicken industry to inflate prices. That coordination pushed up poultry prices paid by fast-food chains and other chicken buyers, prosecutors alleged.
Pilgrim’s said the plea agreement provides that the Justice Department will bring no further charges against the Colorado-based company, and doesn’t recommend an outside compliance monitor. The agreement doesn’t require any restitution or probationary period, the company said.
“We are encouraged that today’s agreement concludes the Antitrust Division’s investigation into Pilgrim’s, providing certainty regarding this matter to our team members, suppliers, customers and shareholders,” said Pilgrim’s Chief Executive Fabio Sandri in a statement.
A Justice Department spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Pilgrim’s was charged with price fixing and bid rigging in a criminal-information document the Justice Department filed late Tuesday in federal court in Colorado. Prosecutors accused the Colorado-based company of coordinating with other parties to suppress competition in the chicken market from 2012 to early 2019.
Prosecutors often file such documents when they have reached settlement agreements with a defendant, and Pilgrim’s is expected to plead guilty to the charge in the coming days, according to people familiar with the matter.
The company is scheduled to make an initial appearance in court on Thursday, according to a court docket.
Pilgrim’s, which is majority-owned by Brazilian meat conglomerate JBS SA, has been at the center of the U.S. government’s wide-ranging probe of the $65 billion U.S. chicken industry. The Justice Department’s initial charges in June targeted Jayson Penn, then chief executive of Pilgrim’s, as well as a former Pilgrim’s sales manager and two executives of a rival chicken company. Mr. Penn and the other defendants have pleaded not guilty.
Pilgrim‘s由巴西肉类集团JBS SA持有多数股权，一直是美国政府对价值650亿美元的美国鸡肉行业进行广泛调查的中心。司法部6月份的最初指控针对的是时任朝圣者首席执行官的杰森·潘(Jayson Penn)，以及朝圣者的一名前销售经理和一家竞争对手鸡肉公司的两名高管。潘和其他被告已经提出无罪抗辩。
Current and former employees of other chicken companies, including Tyson Foods Inc., Claxton Poultry Farms, Perdue Farms Inc. and Koch Foods Inc. have also been charged. The Justice Department has alleged a cozy relationship between C-suite executives and midlevel sales officials across the poultry business, where salesmen negotiating supply deals with major restaurant chains would call one another to compare notes, or encourage one another to steer prices higher.
其他鸡肉公司的现任和前任员工，包括泰森食品公司、克莱斯顿家禽农场、珀杜农场公司。和科赫食品公司(Koch Foods Inc.)。也被起诉了。司法部(Justice Department)声称，整个家禽行业的高管和中层销售官员之间关系融洽，与大型连锁餐厅谈判供应协议的销售人员会互相打电话交流意见，或者鼓励对方提高价格。
Tyson, the biggest U.S. chicken company by sales, has been cooperating with the government’s investigation under a corporate leniency program.
The Justice Department on Oct. 7 charged more former Pilgrim’s officials, including Bill Lovette, who preceded Mr. Penn as CEO and retired in 2019. So far, 10 individuals have been charged in the government’s investigation, which the Justice Department has said is continuing.
The poultry probe has weighed on Pilgrim’s stock price. The shares have lost about a quarter of their value since the Justice Department filed its initial charges June 3, versus a 14% increase in the S&P 500 stock index. Shares of Tyson have fallen 5%.
Pilgrim’s last month replaced Mr. Penn, on a leave of absence since mid-June as he dealt with the government charges, with Mr. Sandri, previously the company’s chief financial officer.
The company for 2019 earned $456 million in profits on $11.4 billion in sales.
Pilgrim’s has been cooperating with Justice Department lawyers since charges were levelled against Mr. Penn, according to people familiar with the investigation. The information the company provided to investigators helped the government expand its case, and Pilgrim’s is receiving a smaller fine in exchange for its cooperation, these people said.
Supermarket and restaurant chains potentially harmed by the alleged price-fixing included Walmart Inc., Kroger Co. , KFC, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, and Golden Corral, according to court documents filed in July by the Justice Department. Kroger and Popeyes are among Pilgrim’s major customers, along with Chick-fil-A Inc., Costco Wholesale Corp. and Publix Super Markets Inc., according to a 2019 Pilgrim’s investor presentation.
根据司法部7月份提交的法庭文件，可能受到价格操纵影响的超市和连锁餐厅包括沃尔玛公司(Walmart Inc.)、克罗格公司(Kroger Co.)、肯德基(KFC)、大力水手路易斯安那厨房(Popyes Louisiana Kitchen)和金畜栏(Golden Corral)。根据2019年朝圣者的投资者介绍，克罗格和大力水手是Pilgrim的主要客户，还有Chick-Fill-A Inc.、Costco Wholesale Corp.和Publix Super Markets Inc.。
Securing a guilty plea from one of the biggest U.S. meat companies is a victory in the Justice Department’s ongoing antitrust scrutiny of major food suppliers. In June, the former CEO of tuna giant Bumble Bee Foods LLC was sentenced to more than three years in jail for leading a scheme to fix prices of canned tuna, according to the Justice Department.
确保美国最大的肉类公司之一认罪是司法部对主要食品供应商正在进行的反垄断审查的胜利。据司法部称，今年6月，金枪鱼巨头大黄蜂食品有限责任公司(Bumble Bee Foods LLC)的前首席执行官因领导操纵金枪鱼罐头价格的阴谋而被判处三年多监禁。
Bumble Bee pleaded guilty for its role in that conspiracy and was sentenced to pay a $25 million fine. StarKist Co., another canned-products company, also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to pay $100 million.
Bumble Bee承认在这起阴谋中扮演的角色，并被判支付2500万美元的罚款。另一家罐头产品公司StarKist Co.也认罪，并被判支付1亿美元。
The Justice Department, along with the U.S. Agriculture Department, separately is probing major beef companies’ cattle-purchasing activities following cattle ranchers’ complaints over plunging livestock prices, while wholesale beef costs remained high. No wrongdoing has been alleged by the government in that matter.