Ex-Pilgrim executives’ charges dropped at end of DOJ’s chicken probe (2)
The Justice Department has decided to dismiss its antitrust case against two former Pilgrim’s Pride executives, the latest defendants in its longstanding but generally unsuccessful bid to tackle alleged price-fixing in the broiler chicken industry. .
The DOJ’s antitrust division’s dismissal of its criminal case against Jason McGuire and Timothy Stiller, in a filing Sunday in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, follows a judge’s order excluding all 294 exhibits conviction of the government regarding the co-conspirators. .
The voluntary dismissal marks the apparent end of the government’s attempt to crack down on alleged price fixing in the chicken industry. His years-long effort to bring industry executives to justice ends with a single guilty plea, five acquittals and 11 defendants who have had all charges dropped.
The government exhibits contain “only the faintest hints of an agreement to fix prices,” Judge Daniel D. Domenico wrote in his Oct. 14 order.
“The government’s conspiracy case rests on hearsay and gloss construction,” he said.
Domenico called out the DOJ for “misleading” key evidence and said the government was wrong to suggest it had proven a conspiracy, “both in law and in fact”.
“On October 14, 2022, the Court issued an order finding that the United States had failed to establish the alleged conspiracy by a preponderance of the evidence, effectively excluding most government evidence in the process,” the DOJ wrote. in its motion to dismiss.
Domenico “deviated from prior rulings” in deciding to exclude the evidence, the DOJ wrote.
The parties were preparing to go to trial at the end of the month.
“Mr. McGuire is grateful that this matter has closed and he looks forward to moving on with his life,” McGuire’s attorney, Davis Polk partner D. Jarrett Arp, said in a statement.
“Justice has been served and this is the right outcome,” said Stiller’s attorney, Kristen Frost of Ridley, McGreevy & Winocur.
The justice previously dismissed cases against other defendants in the price-fixing investigation. Koch Foods and Claxton Poultry Farms escaped charges in late September. In August, the DOJ removed two other former Pilgrim executives from the McGuire case.
The division lost a high-profile jury trial in July in the biggest case arising from the investigation. A Denver jury acquitted five current and former Claxton and Pilgrim’s Pride executives of criminal price-fixing charges. The DOJ has already faced two hung juries in the case, leading it to drop five of the original ten defendants before failing a third time.
One or more defendants typically cooperate with prosecutors in cases involving multiple defendants, noted Carsten Reichel, a partner at Norton Rose Fulbright and a former prosecutor in the antitrust division. “But here, no defendant did that,” Reichel said.
Prosecutors have also been crippled by the setbacks of two initially hung juries, he said.
Domenico’s decision is thorough, and his skeptical look at evidence of competitors exchanging pricing information — commonly used as circumstantial evidence for price-fixing — could provide pointers for future similar cases, Reichel said.
“My conclusion is that the sum of the evidence presented here, including the ‘independent evidence’ and the statements of the co-conspirators themselves, is insufficient to prove the existence of a price-fixing and bid-rigging conspiracy. “, wrote Domenico.
Pilgrim’s Pride pleaded guilty to price-fixing charges in 2021, agreeing to pay a criminal fine of $107 million.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
The deal is United States v McGuire et al, D. Colo., no. 1:21-cr-00246, 10/16/22.