- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 20, 2001

Tyson Foods Inc., the world's largest producer, processor and marketer of poultry products, was indicted yesterday by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiring to smuggle illegal aliens to plants throughout the United States.
Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff, who heads the Justice Department's criminal division, said the 36-count indictment came after a 30-month undercover investigation by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service that targeted the firm's executives and managers.
"The Department of Justice is committed to vigorously investigating and prosecuting companies or individuals who exploit immigrants and violate our nation's immigration laws," Mr. Chertoff said in a statement. "The bottom line on the corporate balance sheet is no excuse for criminal conduct."
According to the indictment handed up in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga, Tenn., Tyson executives and managers conspired to import and transport illegal aliens from the Southwest border to Tyson processing plants throughout the country. Fifteen Tyson plants in nine states were implicated in the conspiracy.
The indictment said the firm cultivated a "corporate culture" in which the hiring of illegal alien workers was "condoned" in order to meet production goals and cut costs. It said one of the managers told an undercover investigator the firm would pay $200 for each illegal alien delivered.
It describes a scheme by which the company requested delivery of illegal aliens to Tyson plants, saying the executives and managers "aided and abetted" the aliens in obtaining false documents so they could work at the processing plants "under the false pretense of being legally employable."
Ken Kimbro, a Tyson senior vice president, yesterday described the accusations against the company as "absolutely false," saying the charges were "limited to a few managers who were acting outside of company policy at five of our 57 poultry processing plants."
Mr. Kimbro said an internal investigation by the firm several months ago resulted in the termination of four of the managers named in the indictment and that two others are now on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the government's case.
"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," he said. "Tyson has a long history of partnering with the Immigration and Naturalization Service to ensure corporate compliance with immigration laws.
"In fact, we have worked in conjunction with the INS relative to this case for the past 18 months from the moment we learned from an independent source that the INS had been operating an ongoing undercover operation using federal agents in what can only be described as a sting operation. As has been our history and company policy, we will continue to cooperate with the INS," he said.
Tyson Foods, based in Springdale, Ark., was a staunch campaign contributor and supporter of Bill Clinton during the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections, as well as his gubernatorial races in Arkansas. The company has 120,000 employees, and sales last year totaled $23.8 billion.
In January 1998, a federal judge accepted a plea agreement by Tyson Foods and ordered the firm to pay $6 million in fines and serve four years' probation for giving Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy $12,000 in airplane rides, football tickets and other illegal gratuities.
Two of the firm's executives, Archie Schaffer III and Jack L. Williams, also were convicted in 1998 of giving illegal gratuities to Mr. Espy.
In addition to charging the Tyson firm, yesterday's indictment names two corporate executives, Robert Hash, the firm's vice president for the retail fresh division, and Gerald Lankford, former human resources manager for the retail fresh division.
Also indicted were four former managers: Keith Snyder in Noel, Mo., and Truley Ponder, Spencer Mabe and Jimmy Rowland, all managers in Shelbyville, Tenn.
The importation of illegal aliens for commercial advantage can carry a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison. Prosecutors are also seeking forfeiture of the financial gain realized by Tyson Foods and its managers.
"This case represents the first time INS has taken action against a company of Tyson's magnitude," said INS Commissioner James Ziglar. "INS means business and companies, regardless of size, are on notice that INS is committed to enforcing compliance with immigration laws and protecting America's work force."

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