Two owners and two employees of the now-defunct Rancho Feeding Corporation slaughterhouse in Petaluma have been charged for allegedly fraudulently processing and distributing condemned and diseased cattle.
The alleged offenses between 2012 and January 2014 led to a nationwide recall of 8.7 million pounds of beef in February.
The indictment returned by a federal grand jury in San Francisco Thursday names Jesse “Babe” Amaral Jr., 76, of Petaluma, the co-owner of Rancho Feeding Corporation, and employees Eugene Corda, 65, of Petaluma, and Felix Sandoval Cabrera, 55, of Santa Rosa.
They are charged with distribution of adulterated, misbranded and un-inspected meat, conspiracy and mail fraud conspiracy.
Amaral also is charged with mail fraud and mail fraud conspiracy in a separate scheme to defraud farmers by means of false invoicing.
Robert Singleton, 77, of Petaluma, co-owner of Rancho Feeding Corporation, also was charged on one count of distribution of adulterated, misbranded and un-inspected meat.
The indictment alleges that between mid- to late 2012 and Jan. 10, 2014, Amaral instructed Cabrera to process cattle that had been condemned by a U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarian.
Carbrera then allegedly directed Rancho’s employees under his supervision to carve “USDA Condemned” stamps out of the cattle carcasses and to process more than 100 of them for transport, sale and distribution between January 2013 and January 2014.
During the same time frame, Amaral and Singleton allegedly directed Carbera and Corda to circumvent the inspection procedures for cattle that showed signs of epithelioma, or “eye cancer,” a disease that can result in condemnation, according to the indictment.
The alleged scheme to slaughter the cancerous cows happened during the USDA inspector’s lunch breaks when plant operations were supposed to cease at the slaughterhouse at 1522 Petaluma Blvd. N. Cabrera, Corda and other employees concealed the diseased cows’ heads by replacing them with healthy cows’ heads to pass post-mortem inspections, according to the indictment.
Federal prosecutors said approximately 79 diseased cattle that did not undergo a full USDA inspection were distributed between January 2013 and January 2014.
Rancho Feeding Corporation compensated Carbera approximately $50 for each condemned carcass or un-inspected cow with eye cancer that Rancho distributed, according to the indictment.
Amaral allegedly conspired to and fraudulently charged farmers “handling fees” based on false statements that the cattle had died or were condemned when in fact he knew the cattle were sold for human consumption, according to the indictment.
Between January 2013 and January 2014, Rancho Feeding Corporation mailed fraudulent invoices to farmers for approximately 17 cattle, the indictment alleges.
Amaral and Corda appeared today in federal court in San Francisco.
Amaral was released on a $50,000 secured bond, and Corda was scheduled to appear this afternoon in court.
Singleton is scheduled to appear in court Friday morning, and Cabrera has not yet appeared in court, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The maximum penalty for conspiracy to distribute adulterated meat is five years’ imprisonment, three years’ supervised release and a $250,000 fine.
The maximum penalty for fraudulent distribution of adulterated meat is three years’ imprisonment, one year supervised release and a $10,000 fine.
Mail fraud and mail fraud conspiracy are punishable by 20 years’ imprisonment, three years’ supervised release and a $250,000 fine.
The USDA’s Office of Inspector General and its Food Safety Inspection Service investigated the Rancho Feeding Corporation’s practices.