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story.lead_photo.caption This April 28, 2020, file photo shows the Pilgrim's Pride plant in Cold Spring. Minn. (St. Cloud Times via AP / Dave Schwarz )

The chief executive officer 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.

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 more than 10% Wednesday afternoon. Shares for other chicken producers were also down; Tyson Foods fell by more than 3% Wednesday afternoon.

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