Major U.S. poultry executives were indicted Wednesday in a major anti-trust probe. Jaysen Penn, CEO of Colorado-based Pilgrim’s Pride, the second-largest chicken producer in the U.S., and former Pilgrim’s vice president Roger Austin, allegedly conspired to fix chicken prices sold to restaurants and grocery stores, in the Department of Justice's first charges in an ongoing investigation.

Penn and Austin now face a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

The charges came as a result of a federal investigation into poultry-industry practices in 2019. A subpoena has also been issued to Tyson Foods and Sanderson Farms. Along with Pilgrim’s Pride, each company is accused of conspiring to raise the prices of their boiler chickens.

“Executives who cheat American consumers, restauranteurs, and grocers, and compromise the integrity of our food supply, will be held responsible for their actions,” Makan Delrahim, head of the antitrust division, said in a statement.

Also charged alongside Penn and Austin were Mikell Fries and Scott Brady, president and vice president, respectively, for Claxton Poultry. All four were found to have conspired to fix prices from 2012 to 2017.

Penn’s indictment marks the highest-profile charge for the federal government’s antitrust division since Aubrey McClendon, the ex-CEO of Chesapeake Energy, who was indicted in March 2016 on charges of conspiring to rig the price of oil and gas leases in Oklahoma.

McClendon died in a car crash a day after his indictment. 

chicken Chickens for sale being held in cages. Photo: Reuters