4 charged in alleged adulterated meat scheme

Investigators: defunct Rancho Feeding Company delivered millions of pounds of tainted meat

SAN FRANSCISCO, Calif. - The now defunct Rancho Feeding Company of Petaluma owners and employees are being charged in Federal Court with distributing millions of pounds of meat they say was ‘adulterated.' An Indictment against one of two owners, as well as two employees in Petaluma, was unsealed Monday.

United States Attorney Melinda Haag and Special Agent in Charge Lori Chan with USDA Office of Inspector General, Investigations also announced charges against Rancho's other owner. All of the defendants are charged with violating the Federal Meat Inspection Act by fraudulently processing and distributing condemned and diseased cattle.

As a result of this investigation, in February, Rancho voluntarily recalled approximately 8.7 million pounds of beef products.

The Indictment 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; conspiracy to commit the same; and mail fraud conspiracy in furtherance of the same scheme. The Indictment also charges Amaral with mail fraud and mail fraud conspiracy, 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.

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 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.

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.

Singleton faces 5 years' imprisonment, 3 years' supervised release, a $250,000 fine, and a $100 special assessment for distributing adulterated meat.  Amaral, Corda and Cabrera face 20 years' imprisonment, 3 years' supervised release, a $250,000 fine, and a $100 special assessment for mail fraud and conspiracy.

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