FOOD SAFETY NEWS – Roberto Adams, a 69-year-old retired USDA Lead Animal Health Technician, must pay a $40,000 fine and enter federal prison for five years. He acknowledged being guilty of accepting bribes as a public official from March 2019 to November 2021.
But Mexican cattle brokers, who paid those bribes, are likely in the wind with the facts pointing to an example of the insecurity of the southern border.
The Adams prosecution was the subject of a joint public corruption investigation by both USSDA’s Office of the Inspector General and the FBI.
The jobs that Adams retired from on Dec. 17, 2021, as a Lead Animal Health Technician involved the examination of all cattle entering the United States through the Port of Entry at Laredo, TX.
According to the U.S. Attorney, if a live tick was found on a cow or bull, the entire load had to be quarantined for a 7- to 14-day period before being presented again for entry to the United States. If other illnesses were discovered only the sick animals had to be held; the others could enter.
USDA’s Inspector General’s office received an anonymous tip on a hotline on Jan. 8, 2021, that accused Adams of allowing tick-infested cattle to enter the United States without proper inspection. The tipline report could not prove but suspected that Adams was acting on behalf of Mexican cattle brokers for some form of financial compensation.
Then on March 16, 2021, a cattle broker at a USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service stakeholders meeting said a USDA Animal Health Technician at Laredo was accepting $200 bribes to permit cattle with live dry ticks to enter the United States and his name was “Roberto.”
The cattle broker who made the accusation was interviewed on March 23, 2021. He said Mexican cattle brokers were paying off Adams on a regular basis. He agreed to make a call to a Mexican cattle broker to ask questions about the scheme. The Mexican cattle broker described Adams and the bribery details.
With another human source, investigators began regular and direct contact with Admas, who was doing business through a third cell phone, including those times when a Mexican load of cattle might be having trouble gaining entry.
On Nov. 19, 2021, federal agents obtain a search warrant for the contents of these cell devices and interviewed Adams in a “non-custodial” setting.
At that interview, Admas admitted to taking bribes from Mexican cattle companies in exchange for allowing tick-infested cattle to enter the United States. He acknowledged being on the take for the previous 14 months.
“This arrangement consisted of accepting bribe money in exchange for allowing cattle into the United States,” court documents said. “In exchange for money, Adams allowed cattle with ringworms, wet castration, and cows that were coughing and had mucus to enter the United States. These cattle would have otherwise been denied entry to the United States. Adams would allow cattle with dry ticks into the country, but not cattle with live ticks.”
Text messages informed Adams of the times Mexican cattle would arrive at the Port of Entry and he responded with assurances those loads were getting through. He also provided his banking information for payments.
Adams received between $40,000 and $95,000 in bribe payments. USDA employees are not allowed to accept any such gifts.
On April 22, 2022, Adams reached a plea agreement with Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather Winter, agreeing to plead guilty to one count of bribery of a public official. Adams admitted that he “did directly and indirectly, corruptly demand, seek, receive, accept and agree to receive and accept personally a thing of value, namely United States Currency, as an influence for the permanence of an official act. . .”
Adams faced a maximum sentence of no more than 15 years in prison, not more than a $250,000 fines nor three times the monetary value. His plea agreement brought the reduced sentencing, which was imposed on June 1 this year.
Adams will self-report to federal prison once assigned a time and place to begin his 5-year sentence. The $40,000 fine is immediately due. No restitution was imposed.
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