- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Tyson
Foods Inc., the world's largest poultry processor, two of the firm's
and four former managers have been indicted on charges of conspiracy to
smuggle illegal immigrants to work at its U.S. plants as a way to boost
profits, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.
- The 36-count indictment, unsealed in federal court in
Tennessee, stemmed from a 2 1/2 year undercover investigation by the
and Naturalization Service (INS) into Tyson's business practices, the
- In a statement, the company denied the charges, with
Tyson Senior Vice President of Human Resources Ken Kimbro saying, "The
prosecutor's claim in this indictment of a corporate conspiracy is
- Kimbro also said the charges are "limited to a few
managers who were acting outside of company policy at five of our 57
processing plants." Tyson said four of the six managers named in the
indictment had been fired and the other two are on administrative
- The Justice Department said 15 Tyson plants in nine
have been implicated in a conspiracy in which workers allegedly were
from Mexico across the U.S. border.
- According to the indictment, the Springdale,
company cultivated a corporate culture in which the hiring of illegal
workers was condoned to meet production goals and to cut costs to maximize
profits, the department said. The alleged scheme dated back to 1994, the
- EXPLOITING IMMIGRANTS
- "The Department of Justice is committed to
investigating and prosecuting companies or individuals who exploit
and violate our nation's immigration laws. The bottom line on the corporate
balance sheet is no excuse for criminal conduct," Assistant Attorney
General Michael Chertoff said in a statement.
- The INS charged that Tyson preferred hiring illegal
because they were forced to be more productive and were less likely to
complain to management about inhumane working conditions and lack of
- Tyson's Kimbro said, "We treat all team members
fairly and with dignity. We're very proud of our diverse work force and
encourage every team member to express freely any concerns or questions
they have. We find it offensive that the prosecutor suggests that we have
treated any team member in a 'less humane' or a discriminatory fashion.
This is simply not true."
- The indictment named two Tyson executives, Robert Hash,
vice president of the retail fresh division, and Gerald Lankford, former
human resources manager for the same division, the department said.
- It said the indictment also charged four former managers:
Keith Snyder, complex manager in Noel, Missouri; Truley Ponder, former
complex manager in Shelbyville, Tennessee; Spencer Mabe, former plant
in Shelbyville; and Jimmy Rowland, the former complex personnel manager
- The indictment charged that between 1994 and June 2001
Tyson hired illegal immigrants from Mexico and listed the costs of the
hiring as "recruitment" expenses.
- The company was accused of purchasing false documents
such as Social Security cards. Prosecutors said Tyson used an INS program
that seeks to ensure that all employees are in the United States legally
to "foster the appearance of compliance with the law" and to
"keep the INS from conducting raids" to identify the illegal
- Tyson's shares plunged on the news, closing down 73 cents
to $10.86 on the New York Stock Exchange. Before the charges were
the stock had been trading higher for the day.
- Christine McCracken, food and agribusiness industry
at Midwest Research Institute, said the accusations against Tyson are
to a few plants and would not spur wide changes in hiring practices for
- "I think they were probably looking for somebody
to make an example of, and Tyson probably fit that," she said.
- Tyson has seen earnings rise of late, with the chicken
business starting to improve after two tough years. Tyson also improved
its product line when it completed its $2.9 billion purchase of beef
IBP in September.
- Tyson previously encountered legal problems when top
executives at the firm were accused of providing illegal gratuities to
former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy and to Espy's
- Tyson agreed to pay a $6 million fine in 1998 to settle
allegations that it provided thousands of dollars in gifts, including
tickets, plane fares and limousine rentals, to Espy while he was office
in the Clinton administration.
- A federal jury acquitted Espy on all charges of
accepting gifts and travel from firms he regulated. Espy resigned in 1994
amid the charges.