News and Press Releases

TWO ARRESTS MADE IN CONTAMINATED FOOD CASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 23, 2010

Jeffrey H. Sloman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, David W. Bourne, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Office of Criminal Investigation, Miami Field Office, and Anthony V. Mangione, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), announced that Francisca Josefina Lopez, 40, and Jorge Alexis Ochoa Lopez, 34, both of Honduras, were arrested by ICE and FDA special agents along with the Miami-Dade Police Department on a criminal complaint today, charging them with introducing adulterated food products into interstate commerce. The charges have been brought under the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act (FDCA), Title 21, United States Code, Sections 331(a), 333(a)(2), and 342(a)(1), and the anti-smuggling statute, Title 18, United States Code, Section 545. The defendants are both scheduled to be in United States Magistrate Court in Miami, on Monday, April 26, 2010, at 1:30 pm.

According to the allegations of the complaint, Francisca Josefina Lopez and Jorge Alexis Ochoa Lopez imported four shipments of cheese from Nicaragua between December 2009 and March 2010, with a declared value of more than $322,000. According to testing conducted by U.S. Food and Drug Administration”s (FDA) district laboratory in Atlanta, Georgia, three of the four shipments were contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus, and the fourth shipment violated standards applicable to phosphatase, indicating the cheese was not pasteurized as declared on the relevant Customs import paperwork.

The FDCA states a food is deemed to be adulterated, among other reasons, if it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health. The Act prohibits causing the introduction or delivery for introduction into interstate commerce of an adulterated food. Felony convictions under the FDCA carry possible sentences of up to three years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 for each violation. Violations of the anti-smuggling statute carry possible sentences of up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 for each violation, and forfeiture of the smuggled goods.

According to the complaint, the defendants operated from a company known as The Lacteos Factory, at 1414 Northwest 23rd Street in Miami. All four shipments, totaling in excess of 170,000 pounds, were refused entry into the commerce of the United States, and were subsequently ordered destroyed or re-exported. On April 1, 2010, Customs & Border Protection (CBP) inspected a cargo container at the Port of Miami, which had been returned to the seaport from Lacteos, with documents to reflect the contents were the first refused shipment, being re-exported. CBP Inspectors discovered that the top layer of cartons on each pallet contained small bricks of cheese, as labeled, but the bulk of the cargo contained in the lower tiers of boxes contained only buckets of waste water. As a result, the majority of the four-hundred eleven cartons of cheese from the entry were missing.

Subsequently, a search warrant was executed at the Lacteos Factory, which revealed that the three other shipments of the cheese product had been sold to over thirty customers, despite still being on hold. It was also determined that one customer conducted independent testing of the cheese, found it to be contaminated with S. aureus and returned the product. Despite that, the cheese was repackaged and sold to other customers.

Mr. Sloman commended the investigative efforts of the Special Agents and Inspectors of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigation, Miami Field Office, ICE’s Office of Investigations in Miami and the Task Force Officers of the Metro-Dade Police Department who conducted the investigation leading to today’s arrests. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.

A Complaint is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

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A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.

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