A federal grand jury in Denver has returned an indictment charging Norman W. Fries Inc., dba Claxton Poultry Farms (Claxton), headquartered in Claxton, GA, with participating in a nationwide conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chicken products.
According to court documents, from at least as early as 2012 until at least 2019, Claxton and co-conspirators, including current Claxton President Mikell Fries and current Vice President Scott Brady, conspired to suppress and eliminate competition for sales of broiler chicken products, which are raised for human consumption and sold to grocers and restaurants.
Fries and Brady are among 10 individuals charged in a superseding indictment from October 2020 for their roles in the conspiracy. Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., a major broiler chicken producer based in Greeley, CO, pleaded guilty and was sentenced in February 2021 to pay a criminal fine of more than $107 million for its role in the conspiracy.
“As this charge shows, we will not hesitate to prosecute crimes designed to put money in corporate coffers and line executives’ pockets at the expense of everyday Americans, including the hundreds of millions of us who rely on chicken to be an affordable staple food,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard A. Powers of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “Alongside our valued law enforcement partners and colleagues at the District of Colorado U.S. Attorney’s Office, we will not stop until integrity is restored to this vital market and all wrongdoers are held to account.”
“Today’s announcement is yet another example of the ongoing work of the FBI and its partners to root out corrupt individuals and companies who collude to inflate prices and attempt to eliminate fair markets,” said Assistant Director in Charge Steven M. D’Antuono of the FBI Washington Field Office. “This anti-competitive behavior will not be tolerated, and the FBI will work to hold people and companies accountable for their criminal actions so the American people and business owners do not pay unnecessarily high costs for necessary food.”
“At such a critical juncture in our nation’s economic history, we are especially proud to be working with DOJ Antitrust Division, the FBI, and USDA OIG to protect American consumers from such unscrupulous efforts to distort the free market for personal gain,” said Special Agent in Charge Duane Townsend of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Inspector General. “This is yet another cooperative step toward justice and restoration of integrity to the poultry market.”
Claxton is charged with a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. If convicted, Claxton faces a statutory maximum fine for corporations of $100 million. The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by victims, if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory maximum fine. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
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 Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General, the FBI’s Washington Field Office, and the 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 888-647-3258 or visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.html.
An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
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