Federal prosecutors contend that their immigration case against Tyson Foods Inc. will send a tough message to any corporation that recruits and exploits illegal workers.
But Tyson officials predict the government won't prove any conspiracy to smuggle and hire illegal workers once a trial begins in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Tuesday, not even with company records, secretly taped conversations or testimony by former managers and undercover agents.
"We are anxious to tell our story in court," said Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson, the world's largest meat producer. "There is no evidence of a corporate effort to hire undocumented workers."
Attorneys expect the trial before U.S. District Judge Allan Edgar to last two months.
An indictment unsealed in December 2001 accused Tyson and several of its managers of conspiring to smuggle illegal immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras to work in 15 poultry-processing plants in nine states -- Tennessee, Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia.
Tyson contends the managers acted outside company policy.
Three of the managers worked at a plant in Shelbyville, Tenn. One former plant employee, Amador Anchando-Rascon, who made a plea agreement with prosecutors, is expected to testify that Tyson managers asked him to bring illegal immigrants to the plants and provide them fraudulent identification, such as Social Security cards.