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Cuomo Ethics Chief Joins JBS Unit Facing Chicken Cartel Claims

Jan. 4, 2022, 11:50 AM

Victoria Lane, who served as former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top ethics lawyer before he resigned in response to sexual harassment allegations, has joined Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. as the world’s second-largest chicken producer copes with a variety of antitrust-related legal and compliance issues.

Lane was hired in December as a senior director for ethics and compliance at Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., a subsidiary of JBS SA, according to the company. The former litigator at Hinckley, Allen & Snyder was chief special counsel for ethics, risk, and compliance to Cuomo for roughly seven months before she stepped down last year.

The company and some of its poultry industry rivals are seeking to turn the page on allegations that for years they engaged in anti-competitive trade practices, including acting as a cartel. Pilgrim’s Pride has agreed to pay roughly $186 million to settle a pair of civil and criminal antitrust cases in the last two years.

Lane was part of a Cuomo ethics, risk, and compliance initiative that the Times Union reported last year was designed to bring a private sector risk management model to state agencies and public authorities. The program also helped Cuomo and his allies head off potential negative information that could hurt his administration, according to the Times Union.

Gov. Kathy Hochul ended the ethics, risk, and compliance program shortly after succeeding Cuomo in August. Lane was assigned to the state’s Executive Chamber, but chose to resign instead, according to the Times Union.

Lane didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In-House ‘Evolution’

Lane reunites at Pilgrim’s with former federal prosecutor Michael Koenig, who she worked with at a pair of law firms.

Koenig, who also didn’t respond to a comment request, joined Pilgrim’s in August as head of ethics and compliance. Lane now reports to Koenig in her new role, said Nikki Richardson, the Pilgrim’s spokeswoman.

Koenig reports to Kevin Arquit, Richardson said. The former antitrust practice leader at Kasowitz Benson Torres, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, and Weil, Gotshal & Manges in New York was hired by JBS last year to be the company’s chief legal officer.

“Kevin’s and Mike’s hiring as senior executives in newly created positions are critical steps in our evolution as we strengthen our ethics and compliance capabilities and expertise,” Richardson said in an email.

Pilgrim’s has been fighting a range of antitrust-related legal battles, including a wage-fixing case filed in 2019 against the company and other poultry processors accusing them of depressing pay for immigrant workers.

The company reached a nearly $76 million proposed settlement last year in a chicken cartel class action case. Pilgrim’s also agreed in 2020 to pay a $110 million fine over its role in a criminal antitrust case filed by federal prosecutors that ensnared the company’s former CEO Jayson Penn.

Penn left Pilgrim’s in September 2020 after the Justice Department charged him and several other poultry industry executives in a market-rigging probe. The criminal case against Penn, William Lovette—another former Pilgrim’s CEO—and eight other defendants ended in a mistrial last month.

The lead federal prosecutor in that case was Michael T. Koenig. Richardson said the Justice Department’s Koenig is unrelated to Pilgrim’s new compliance leader.

Legal Expertise

Koenig, himself a former federal prosecutor and now the top compliance cop at Pilgrim’s, has been called one of the most politically powerful lawyers in New York.

Jim Malatras, who resigned last month as chancellor of the State University of New York in the fallout from Cuomo’s resignation, reportedly retained Koenig to represent him before the former Hinckley Allen partner joined Pilgrim’s last summer.

Koenig was also hired in 2014 to represent the disbanded Moreland Commission, a public entity created by Cuomo to investigate corruption in New York politics. That body was dissolved as part of a budget deal between Cuomo and the state legislature, although its files were sent to federal prosecutors in Manhattan.

Lane, who started her legal career two decades ago as an associate at Hughes Hubbard & Reed, went on to work with Koenig at Greenberg Traurig, where she spent a half-dozen years. Lane left that firm with Koening in early 2012 to open an office for Hinckley Allen, where she ultimately made partner in 2015.

Richardson, the spokeswoman for Pilgrim’s, said the company did not have a preexisting relationship with Lane or Koenig during their time in private practice.

An online job listing for Lane’s title at Pilgrim’s states that the position is based in the company’s headquarters in Greeley, Colo., and has a base salary range between $175,000 and $250,000. Another job listing for a director of ethics and compliance has a salary range between $125,000 and $175,000.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com