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Claxton Poultry president pleads ‘not guilty’
DOJ: Mikell Fries conspired to fix prices, rig bids
Mikell Fries

Mikell Fries, president of Claxton Poultry Farms, entered a “not guilty” plea Monday in the U.S. District Court in Denver, Colorado, to a one-count indictment from the Department of Justice alleging senior executives and others conspired to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chickens, which are primarily sold to grocers and restaurants.

Fries, who entered his plea following a brief continuance, joined “not guilty” pleas last week from Claxton Poultry National Accounts Sales Manager Scott Brady, Colorado-based Pilgrim’s Pride President and CEO Jayson Penn, and former Pilgrim’s Pride Vice President Roger Austin.

In the indictment, the government alleges that from at least as early as 2012 until at least early 2017, Fries and Brady, along with Penn and Austin, conspired to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chickens across the United States.   

In a statement issued last week, Claxton Poultry disputed the allegations.    

“The allegations attributed to our company are without merit and we intend to vigorously defend our company and its good name as this process moves forward. We will not comment further on the allegations other than to say that since our small start in 1949, we have adhered to the highest standards of food quality, professionalism, integrity and good faith in all our operations.”

“Executives who cheat American consumers, restauranteurs and grocers, and compromise the integrity of our food supply, will be held responsible for their actions,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.


Ongoing investigation

According to the Department of Justice press release last week, Fries, Brady, Penn and Austin are the first to be charged in an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in the broiler chicken industry.

The offense charged carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by victims if either amount is greater than $1 million.

Claxton Poultry is a supplier to leading foodservice and retail brands, including Chick-fil-A, Walmart, Popeye’s, KFC, Zaxby’s and Bojangles, among others. The company processes more than 2 million birds per week and employs approximately 1,800 workers and 250 contract poultry growers.

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