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Government opens case against Tyson Foods hiring illegal immigrants

(Thursday, Feb. 6, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Bill Poovey, AP, via The Agribusiness Examiner: Federal prosecutors told jurors Wednesday that "corporate greed" motivated Tyson Foods Inc. to hire illegal immigrants at its poultry processing plants and that high-ranking executives knew about the practice but did nothing to stop it.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John MacCoon began laying out the government's case in his opening statement, saying prosecutors will clearly show the nation's largest meat company conspired from 1992 to 2001 to hire illegal immigrants.

Tyson sought these employees "who would work for low wages and never complain --- no matter how much they were exploited --- because they were illegal aliens," MacCoon said.

Some Tyson executives encouraged the practice because it allowed the company to pad its bottom line, the prosecutor claimed.

"This trial is about corporate greed," MacCoon said.

Tyson, which was to present its opening statements after MacCoon concluded, has denied the government charges and rejected efforts to settle the case.

At plants in Shelbyville, Tennessee, and Wilkesboro, North Carolina, illegal workers outnumbered legitimate employees on Tyson's poultry processing lines, MacCoon said.

He called the Shelbyville plant "the proving ground of a nationwide conspiracy by Tyson" and said the company's hiring practices are the reason the community has Tennessee's highest percentage of Hispanic residents --- eight percent, according to the 2000 Census.

Besides the company, two executives on administrative leave --- Robert Hash, 49, and Keith Snyder, 42 --- and former human relations manager Gerald Lankford, 63, are accused of a conspiracy that smuggled illegal immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras to work at plants in several states.

Two other former Tyson managers have made plea-bargain deals with prosecutors and will likely testify.

The jury of seven men and five women and a group of alternates [in Chattanooga Tennessee] were seated Tuesday. Attorneys for Springdale, Arkansas.-based Tyson quizzed potential jurors about any bias related to recent corporate scandals in the news.

A December 2001 indictment accuses Tyson and other defendants of taking part in a conspiracy in which illegal workers were smuggled to poultry plants in Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Missouri and Arkansas.

The indictment says illegal workers also were hired through temporary employment agencies to work at Tyson plants in Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Indiana, Mississippi, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Missouri.

Tyson attorneys have said they turned down a government demand for $100 million to have the charges dropped. The attorneys have accused the government of using undercover agents to entrap Tyson employees.

Shares of Tyson fell 26 cents to close Wednesday at $9.60 on the New York Stock Exchange.