Federal charges have been brought against two owners and two employees of Rancho Feeding Operations, a Petaluma, California-based livestock slaughterhouse, for distributing condemned and diseased cattle in violation of the Federal Meat Inspection Act. United States v. Amaral, No. 14-cr-437 (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Cal., San Francisco Div., filed August 14, 2014); United States v. Singleton, No. 14-cr-441 (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Cal., San Francisco Div., filed August 18, 2014). As a result of the investigation giving rise to the charges, Rancho voluntarily recalled some 8.7 million pounds of beef products in February 2014.

According to the criminal indictment and information, Jesse Amaral and Robert Singleton, who owned the operation, allegedly directed Eugene Corda, Rancho’s primary yardperson, and Felix Cabrera, the facility’s foreperson, to either (i) remove “USDA Condemned” stamps from cattle carcasses and to process them for transport and distribution, or (ii) place the heads of healthy cows, swapped for diseased heads—from “cancer eye cows”—next to the carcasses of diseased animals while U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors were on break, so that the inspectors would be “unaware that the carcasses they were inspecting belonged to cancer eye cows that had escaped ante mortem inspection.” The indictment also alleges that Amaral falsely advised farmers that their cattle had died or been condemned and created invoices charging the farmers “handling” fees for the carcass disposal, “instead of compensating them based on the sale price.”

Singleton has been charged in the criminal information with one count of distributing adulterated, misbranded and uninspected meat and of aiding and abetting. Amaral, Corda and Cabrera have been indicted by a grand jury on eight counts, including conspiracy to distribute adulterated, misbranded and uninspected meat; conspiracy to commit mail fraud; and distribution of adulterated and misbranded meat and aiding and abetting. Amaral has also been charged with three additional counts of mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and the prosecutor has sought the forfeiture from him of any property traceable to the alleged crimes.

Maximum penalties for conspiracy to distribute adulterated meat are five years’ imprisonment, three years’ supervised release, a $250,000 fine, and $100 special assessment. Penalties for fraudulent distribution of adulterated meat are three years’ imprisonment, one year of supervised release, a $10,000 fine, and $100 special assessment. And the maximum statutory penalties for mail fraud and mail fraud conspiracy are 20 years’ imprisonment, three years’ supervised release, a $250,000 fine, and $100 special assessment. See U.S. Attorney’s Office Press Release, August 18, 2014.