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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - Tyson Foods Inc., the nation's largest meat producer, has been indicted on federal charges that it smuggled illegal immigrants from Mexico and gave them fraudulent work papers in order to cut costs in its poultry factories, The Associated Press reports.
Tyson Foods and six of its employees were charged in the 36-count indictment, which contends they have tolerated the hiring of illegal immigrants since 1994. The alleged conspiracy included 15 Tyson plants in nine states - Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
The indicted employees include a Robert Hash, vice president of the company's retail fresh division, and Gerald Lankford, former human resources manager of the division, as well as three former managers at the Shelbyville plant and a manager in Noel, Mo., who used to work in Shelbyville.
Tyson reported that they were dismissed or placed on administrative leave after an internal investigation several months ago.
The U.S. attorney's office said a conviction on charges of importing illegal immigrants for commercial advantage can carry a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, with no chance of parole.
"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," said James Ziglar, commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Tyson spokesman Ken Kimbro contends that the charge of corporate conspiracy is "absolutely false. In reality, the specific charges are limited to a few managers who were acting outside of company policy at five of our 57 poultry processing plants," reports the AP.
Kimbro added: "While we are disappointed that it has come to this, we will vigorously defend our business, our diverse work force and our reputation."