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Pilgrim's Pride CEO among those indicted in chicken price fixing scheme
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Pilgrim's employees walk along Industrial Boulevard Tuesday, April 14, 2020, as they leave the Gainesville poultry plant. - photo by Scott Rogers

The CEO of Pilgrim's Pride is one of four current and former chicken company executives indicted Wednesday on charges of price-fixing.

The U.S. Department of Justice said a federal grand jury in Colorado found that executives from Colorado-based Pilgrim's Pride and Georgia-based Claxton Poultry conspired to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chickens from at least 2012 to 2017. 

Pilgrim's Pride President and CEO Jayson Penn was charged, along with former Pilgrim's Pride Vice President Roger Austin. Claxton Poultry President Mikell Fries and Vice President Scott Brady also were charged.

Pilgrim's Pride has a location on Industrial Boulevard in Gainesville and a feed mill on Bradford Street Extension.

The charges were the first in a long-running investigation into price-fixing in the chicken industry. Broiler chickens are chickens raised for human consumption and sold to grocery stores and restaurants. Claxton's customers include Chick-fil-A.

"Particularly in times of global crisis, the (Justice Department's antitrust) division remains committed to prosecuting crimes intended to raise the prices Americans pay for food," Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim said in a statement. 

The executives could each face 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine. 

Pilgrim's Pride Corp. shares tumbled 11% Wednesday afternoon. Shares for other chicken producers, including Tyson Foods, were also down.