Judge throws out several charges against Tyson, retains 12 others in immigrant smuggling case

Friday, March 14th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) _ A judge hearing accusations of immigrant smuggling at Tyson Foods poultry plants dismissed 15 charges Friday but retained 12 others, including the most serious conspiracy count.

The dismissed charges related to two deliveries of illegal workers. U.S. District Judge R. Allan Edgar agreed with Tyson's attorneys that there was no proof that the company or any managers requested the deliveries from undercover agents posing as immigrant smugglers.

Tyson and some former managers are accused of hiring illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America as part of a nationwide conspiracy to boost production and profits.

Friday's ruling cleared the way for Tyson lawyers to begin presenting what they say will be two weeks of evidence on the remaining charges.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John MacCoon rested the government's case in the five-week-old trial Thursday.

Tapes of secretly recorded conversations between Tyson managers and undercover agents posing as immigrant smugglers were a big part of the government's evidence. Some of those conversations indicated that hiring illegal immigrants, particularly through temporary agencies, was routine.

The company, based in Springdale, Ark., contends the government's investigation involved only a few plant managers who independently violated Tyson's ``zero tolerance'' policy on illegal hiring.

But two former managers have testified that executives up the company's chain of command knew about the hirings. Both pleaded guilty in January to an immigrant smuggling conspiracy charge and face up to of five years in prison when they are sentenced May 12.

If found guilty, Tyson could face millions of dollars in fines.