Poultry price-fixing has thousands of victims, making it impossible to notify them individually or accord all of their rights contained in the Crime Victims’ Rights Act  (CVRA). 

Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys Heather Call and Michael Koenig are therefore asking the U.S. District Court for Colorado to permit a “reasonable alternative notification procedures for notifying thousands of potential victims” because of the numbers involved.

Four poultry company executives from two companies are each charged with one count of conspiracy to restrain trade in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Anti-trust Act.  The defendants are Pilgrim’s Pride CEO Jayson Jeffrey Penn,  Claxton Poultry Farms President Mikell Fries, Pilgrim’s Vice President Roger Austin, and Claxton Vice President Scott Brady.

The charges relate to alleged bid-rigging and price-fixing for broiler chicken products sold in the United States between 2012 and 2017.

A trial in federal court in Denver is scheduled to begin on Feb. 16, 2021.

Price-fixing victims could be notified by the DOJ’s publicly accessible website for crime victims and by providing written notice to the plaintiff’s counsel in a “parallel civil action that is pending in the Northern District of Illinois.”

The DOJ attorneys made those suggestions recently to U.S. District Court Judge Philip Brimmer. He has set a deadline of Dec. 28 for ruling on pre-trial motions.   Responses are then due by Jan. 11, 2021.

The CVRA grants certain rights to victims in criminal proceedings. Among these are a victim’s right to “reasonable, accurate, and timely notice” of public court proceedings, and a right “to confer with the attorney for the government in the case.” 

The CVRA further provides that agencies of the United States “shall make their best efforts to see that crime victims are notified of, and accorded, the rights described in subsection.” The CVRA defines a crime victim as a “person directly and proximately harmed as a result of the commission of a federal offense . . . .”

The DOJ attorneys say the CVRA recognizes that for crimes involving numerous victims, the court has the discretion to adopt procedures that will not unduly interfere with the criminal proceedings. 

“In a case where the court finds that the number of crime victims makes it impracticable to accord all of the crime victims the rights described in subsection (a), the court shall fashion a reasonable procedure to give effect to this chapter that does not unduly complicate or prolong the proceedings,” the DOJ attorneys wrote.

They said, “the CVRA places no limitations on the alternative procedures which a court may fashion other than that the procedures be reasonable to effectuate the Act and that they not unduly complicate or prolong the proceedings.”  

In this case, they said “the defendants are charged with participating in a multi-year “conspiracy to suppress and eliminate competition by rigging bids and fixing prices and other price-related terms for broiler chicken products sold in the United States.” 

In addition to providing a summary of the case and charge, the information on the Department’s large cases page will direct actual and potential victims to the Antitrust Division webpage, containing a summary of the charges, information concerning victims’ rights and services, the next scheduled hearing, the Victim Witness Coordinator’s contact information, and case-related updates. 

The government is expected to produce 12.5 million documents comprising 19 terabytes prior to trial.

The civil antitrust case in the Northern District of Illinois, Maplevale Farms Inc. v. Mar-Jaz Holding has been underway since 2016.

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