Federal investigators will not prosecute Pilgrim's Pride Corp. for employing illegal immigrants and have dropped an investigation into the chicken producer and its workers, the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of Texas said Wednesday.
The Pittsburg, Texas-based company in turn agreed to pay $4.5 million to a law enforcement fund at the Department of the Treasury and improve how it screens prospective employees to ensure they are allowed to work in the United States, the office said in a statement.
An investigation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement led to the arrest in December 2007 of 25 people involved in a scheme to secure jobs for illegal immigrants at Pilgrim's Pride plants in East Texas. Some of those arrested were human resources employees at the company.
They were prosecuted for immigration violations or crimes stemming from document and identity fraud, said Arnold Spencer, the federal prosecutor who oversaw the case.
The arrests were followed in April 2008 with raids of Pilgrim's Pride plants in Texas, Florida, West Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee. The company cooperated and ICE agents arrested 338 illegal workers. Of those, 38 were convicted of misuse of a Social Security number and others faced deportation or other immigration proceedings.
All immigration-related investigations into the company and its current and former employees have been closed, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Wednesday.
"This case demonstrates that the government and business, working together, can go a long way to resolving the issue of employment of illegal aliens," U.S. Attorney John M. Bales said in the statement.
Pilgrim's Pride pointed out that no civil or criminal charges were ever filed against the company.
"The settlement does not constitute any admission of civil or criminal misconduct on the part of Pilgrim's Pride or any of its directors, officers, management or other employees," the company said in its statement.
Federal authorities have increasingly used non-prosecution agreements over the last five years to encourage companies to comply with immigration laws, Spencer said.
"There were points in time in which companies took the position that if the applicant had a valid social security (number) that matched a name, then that was sufficient information. It didn't matter that they knew other people were using the exact same number in another state or ... that this person had worked for the company under a different name," he said.
Pilgrim's Pride announced Monday it was emerging from bankruptcy protection. Under a reorganization plan, Pilgrim's Pride will sell a 64 percent stake in the company, worth $800 million, to Brazilian beef giant JBS _ the world's biggest meat producer.