Felony Food Tampering Charges In FL, GA

Felony criminal cases top 3Q enforcement actions by USDA’s food safety arm

Dan Flynn, Food Safety News – The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service enforcement report for the past quarter shows it brought criminal actions in federal courts in Florida and Georgia.

As a result, later this month, one defendant will be sentenced, and another will participate in his defense during an upcoming pre-trial hearing.

A Grand Jury indicted Randal Hamby, a corporate official of the Atlanta-based Amigos Meat Distributor, June 26 for conspiracy, forging an official device and mark, and the adulteration and misbranding of poultry products.

Hamby was arrested and later released on bond. The U.S. District Court is hearing the felony criminal case for the Northern District of Georgia. Hamby pleaded not guilty, and in late August a pre-trial hearing is scheduled.

Also in the third quarter of the federal fiscal year, Victor H. Gonzalez, president of El Milagro [“The Miracle’] Nursery Inc. in Loxahatchee, FL, entered a guilty plea on one count of knowingly handling and slaughtering livestock in an inhumane manner. Sentencing is scheduled for late August.

The June 21 plea agreement will be heard by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. (Food tampering story continues below … )

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Federal sentencing guidelines call for up to three years of imprisonment, up to a $250,000 fine, and up to one year of probation for the animal abuse violation.

U.S. Attorney Thomas A. Watts-FitzGerald has agreed to support a sentence less than that in the guidelines. The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act requires swine be rendered “insensible to pain” before being killed for human consumption.

The poultry-related trial for Hamby involves incidents alleged to have occurred “in and around” December 2012 when the Amigos Meat Distributor warehouse contained a large quantity of out-of-date or about to be out-of-date poultry.

Hamby and a “co-conspirator” unknown to the Grand Jury are alleged to have “devised a scheme to repackage, relabel and sell old, damaged and off-conditioned poultry products so that the products would not have to be destroyed.”

Hamby and his helper knew Amigos was not allowed by USDA to repackage and relabel poultry products. He is accused of seeking a “technology specialist” to create, manufacture, and print fraudulent labels that included the USDA mark of inspection.

Hamby and the co-conspirator acquired the label printer on Jan. 28, 2013, and continued to relabel poultry products, including fraudulent labels, during 2013.

Among the multiple felony charges, Hamby is accused of the adulteration and misbranding of poultry products, forging an official device and mark, and using them without authorization.

FSIS reported on the criminal prosecutions in its quarterly update for the period ending June 30. It is the third quarter of the federal fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1.

Food tampering civil actions

The quarterly update also showed FSIS using the federal courts for civil actions.

On April 30, Kam Man Food in Quincy, MA, and Wellman Wu, its president, entered into a second addendum to its 2011 Consent Decree for selling non-federally inspected poultry products.

Under the addendum, Kam Man paid a $65,000 civil penalty and a $1,385 investigator fee and will continue to operate as outlined by the decree. The U.S. District Court for New Jersey signed off on the amended agreement.

Separately, William Woo paid a $5,495 civil penalty for violating the Federal Meat Inspection Act for offering for sale and selling non-federally inspected pork products. The penalty is related to the 2011 incident.

Chicago-based Kingdom Farms Wholesale and Kierran Moran entered into a Consent Decree in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois that enjoins them from future violations of federal meat and poultry inspection laws and sets up fines for future violations.

Repeated violations of federal meat and poultry inspection laws also brought Dorchester, MA-based Phu Cuong Enterprises Inc., doing business as Phu Cuong Market into federal district court for Massachusetts.

It ended up agreeing to a Consent Decree that permanently enjoins the firm from selling, transporting, offering for sale or transport, or receiving in commerce any uninspected or misbranded meat or meat food products, poultry or poultry products required to be inspected by USDA. Phu Cuong also promised to maintain business records.

In an administrative complaint, FSIS on May 16 sought to indefinitely suspend slaughter inspection services for Yankton, SD-based Cimpl’s LLC. The complaint said the South Dakota slaughter operation had “repetitive egregious humane handling and slaughter violations” and the inability to provide assurances that its handling and slaughter of livestock will be conducted humanely.

FSIS and Cimpl’s agreed to a Consent Decision and Order that will allow inspections to continue in exchange for the company hiring an independent qualified third party to put a robust systematic humane handling and slaughter program in place that will be fully compliant with regulatory requirements.

FSIS also waited during the quarter for an administrative law judge’s ruling on the agency’s decision Dec. 8, 2015, withdrawal of inspection services from Westminster, VT-based Westminster Meats LLC. An administrative law judge heard Westminster’s appeal from Nov. 14-17, 2017, and the decision is still pending.

Also in June, three firms paid civil penalties under Stipulation Agreements with FSIS. They were:

  • New York-based Golden Top Green Farm, $960;
  • Chicago-based Hector Produce Corp., $480;
  • and Brooklyn, NY-based Jack’s Egg Farm, $1,525.

FSIS personnel provides inspection services in more than 6,200 meat, poultry, egg and catfish slaughter, and processing facilities. Its quarterly enforcement updates also reports livestock and poultry production.

Less livestock was brought to market, according to this third quarter report. During the first three months of the federal fiscal year 2018, FSIS inspected more than 51 million carcasses at slaughter.

In the second quarter, livestock production fell to 41 million, and for the third quarter, it fell off to 38 million. Poultry production remains strong with more than 2.3 billion birds becoming food.

Republished with permission of Food Safety NewsTo sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.