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Prosecutors say Tyson Foods Inc. conspired to smuggle more than 150 illegal immigrant workers from Mexico and Central America to fill low-paying jobs with one of the world’s largest poultry, beef and pork processors. Assistant U.S. Attorney John MacCoon said secret tape recordings would help him prove the conspiracy began in 1994 after Tyson plant managers had trouble hiring cheap legal help for its poultry plants. Company officials then turned to a pipeline of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America, he alleged. “This trial is about corporate greed,” MacCoon told a federal jury in Chattanooga, Tenn., Wednesday, pointing out illegal workers at Tyson plants in Shelbyville, Tenn., and Wilkesboro, N.C., at one point outnumbered legitimate employees. MacCoon said Tyson sought illegal immigrants because they “would work for low wages and never complain — no matter how much they were exploited.” Tyson attorney Tom Green said any hiring of illegal immigrants was done by a few plant managers and was not known to executives at Tyson headquarters in Springdale, Ark. “No one in senior management knew,” Green said. “No member of senior management ever violated immigration laws or encouraged” anyone else to do so. A border patrol agent testified Wednesday that Tyson plants solicited and accepted 26 deliveries of illegal immigrant workers during an undercover investigation. Agent Benjamin Maldonado said he posed as an immigrant smuggler and was introduced to “various Tyson managers” during an investigation started in 1997. He said a total of 136 illegal immigrants were taken to Tyson plants in six states. Another 18 illegals were intercepted before reaching Cumming, Ga. Testimony was expected to continue Thursday. Tyson attorneys said they turned down a government demand for $100 million to have the charges dismissed. They also have accused the government of using undercover agents to entrap Tyson employees. A December 2001 indictment accuses Tyson and three company officials of taking part in a smuggling conspiracy. Besides the company, the defendants include Gerald Lankford, 63, of North Wilkesboro, N.C., a former human relations manager; and two Tyson executives on administrative leave, Robert Hash, 49, of Greenwood, Ark., and Keith Snyder, 42, of Bella Vista, Ark. Attorneys for Lankford, Hash and Snyder told jurors their clients took part in no conspiracies and never knowingly hired illegal workers. If found guilty, Tyson could face millions in fines and the loss of government contracts. The company supplies roughly one-quarter of the nation’s chicken. Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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