Petaluma Slaughterhouse Owners And Employees Charged In Scheme To Distribute Adulterated Meat
SAN FRANCISCO – An Indictment against one of two owners, as well as two employees, of the now-defunct Rancho Feeding Corporation, a livestock slaughterhouse located in Petaluma, Calif., was unsealed today in federal court, announced United States Attorney Melinda Haag and Special Agent in Charge Lori Chan, USDA Office of Inspector General, Investigations. The two also announced charges, in the form of an Information, against Rancho’s other owner. All of the defendants are charged with violating the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) by fraudulently processing and distributing condemned and diseased cattle.
The Indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in San Francisco on Aug. 14, 2014, charges Rancho owner Jesse “Babe” Amaral, Jr., 76, Eugene Corda, 65, both of Petaluma, Calif., and Felix Cabrera, 55, of Santa Rosa, Calif., with distribution of adulterated, misbranded, and uninspected meat, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 610(c) & 676(a); conspiracy to commit the same, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371; and mail fraud conspiracy in furtherance of the same scheme, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349. The Indictment also charges Amaral with mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341, and mail fraud conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349, in a separate scheme to defraud farmers by means of false invoicing. The Information charges Rancho owner Robert Singleton, 77, of Petaluma, Calif., with one count of distribution of adulterated, misbranded, and uninspected meat, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 610(c) & 676(a).
According to the charging documents, between mid to late 2012 and Jan. 10, 2014, Amaral instructed Cabrera to process cattle that had been condemned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) veterinarian. Based on this instruction, Cabrera directed Rancho employees under his supervision to carve “USDA Condemned” stamps out of the cattle carcasses and to process the carcasses for transport, sale, and distribution. As a result of this conspiracy, Rancho distributed more than one hundred condemned cattle.
The charging documents also allege that, during this same time frame, Amaral and Singleton directed Cabrera and Corda to circumvent inspection procedures for cattle showing signs of epithelioma, or “cancer eye,” a disease that can result in condemnation. Specifically, the Indictment and Information allege that, at Amaral’s and Singleton’s instructions, Rancho employees including Cabrera and Corda engaged in a scheme to slaughter cancer eye cows during USDA inspectors’ lunch breaks, a time during which plant operations were supposed to cease, and then to conceal the diseased cow heads by swapping them with healthy cow heads for the purpose of post mortem inspections. As a result, Rancho distributed approximately 79 diseased cattle that did not undergo full USDA inspection.
Additionally, the Indictment alleges that, between 2012 and January 2014, Amaral conspired to and did fraudulently charge farmers “handling fees” based on false statements that their cattle had died or been condemned, when in fact he knew that the cattle had been sold for human consumption.
As a result of this investigation, in February 2014, Rancho voluntarily recalled approximately 8.7 million pounds of beef products.
Amaral’s and Corda’s initial appearances on the Indictment took place this morning in federal court in San Francisco. Amaral has been released on a $50,000 secured bond, and Corda was scheduled for a bond hearing today at 1:30 p.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler. Singleton’s initial appearance on the Information is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, at 9:30 a.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins in San Francisco. Cabrera has not yet made his initial appearance.
The maximum statutory penalties for conspiracy to distribute adulterated meat are 5 years’ imprisonment, 3 years’ supervised release, a $250,000 fine, and a $100 special assessment. The maximum statutory penalties for fraudulent distribution of adulterated meat are 3 years’ imprisonment, 1 year supervised release, a $10,000 fine, and a $100 special assessment. The maximum statutory penalties for mail fraud and mail fraud conspiracy are 20 years’ imprisonment, 3 years’ supervised release, a $250,000 fine, and a $100 special assessment. Notwithstanding these statutory maximums, any sentence imposed by the court following conviction would take into consideration the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553. In addition, an indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Hartley M.K. West is the Assistant U.S. Attorney who is prosecuting this case with the assistance of Rosario Calderon. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by agents of the USDA’s Office of Inspector General, Investigations, and USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service, Office of Investigation, Enforcement and Audit, Compliance and Investigations.