The Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced that Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. will pay $25 million and enter a deferred prosecution agreement to resolve criminal charges related to foodborne illness outbreaks that occurred between 2015 and 2018. The deferred prosecution agreement will require Chipotle to comply with an improved food safety program for three years to avoid conviction. “This case highlights why it is important for restaurants and members of the food services industry to ensure that managers and employees consistently follow food safety policies,” a DOJ attorney stated in a press release. “The Department of Justice will vigorously enforce food safety laws in order to protect public health.”
The Kansas City Star has detailed the story of Randy Constant, a Chillicothe, Missouri, man who fraudulently sold millions of dollars' worth of "organic" grains—as much as 7% of all the corn and 8% of all the soybeans sold nationally as organic in 2016. Federal investigators began looking into Constant when a competitor tipped off the government that it was impossible for him to have such high outputs legitimately. An FBI investigation revealed that he sold $140 million worth of "organic" grain from 2010-2017 that, if labeled correctly, would have likely been worth half of that total. The Star asserts that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had received a complaint in 2007 about Constant's soybeans, which tests showed were genetically modified in violation of organic regulations, but the agency failed to take any action. Attorneys for Constant argued that his fraud was a victimless crime, but the court disagreed, sentencing…
Europol announced that it has "dismantled a sophisticated criminal network involved in counterfeiting trademarks and distinctive labels of a famous winery in Florence, Italy, as well as counterfeiting at least 11 000 bottles of red wine." The agency arrested three people, including two members of the same family, who allegedly "sold sports products online as a way to mislead consumers of their activities." According to a press release, the "modus operandi was to prepare bottles of low-quality wine and once ready, would sell them to the Italian and international markets, primarily in Belgium and Germany."
In collaboration with EUROPOL, Spain's environmental protection service has seized 45 tons of tuna illegally treated with color-enhancing substances. The tuna was frozen and acceptable for canned use, but four individuals were recoloring the fish and selling it as fresh, according to the investigators. The alleged perpetrators face up to four years in prison for "endangering public health."
Christopher Lischewski, president and CEO of Bumble Bee Foods, has been indicted by a federal grand jury in California and charged with one count of felony price-fixing for his alleged role in a scheme to fix the price of canned and packaged seafood sold in the United States. U.S. v. Lischewski, No. 18-0203 (N.D. Cal., filed May 16, 2018). The felony charge alleges that Lischewski and co-conspirators engaged in "an unreasonable restraint of interstate commerce" in violation of the Sherman Act; the maximum penalties include up to 10 years' imprisonment and a fine of $1 million. Lischewski's indictment follows guilty pleas on similar charges from Bumble Bee and its former senior vice president.
One day after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued draft guidance on proposals to expedite product warnings and recalls, FDA and other health officials testified before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations about the results of an audit faulting the agency for the failure of the recall process to ensure food safety. Conducted by the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services, the audit identified a two-month average delay between when FDA notified companies of issues and when companies took action. During the hearing, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) reportedly displayed a snack container he had brought to a 2009 hearing on a nationwide Salmonella outbreak traced to products manufactured by the Peanut Corp. of America (PCA). PCA executives are serving federal prison terms for their roles in the outbreak, and a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit…
President Donald Trump has commuted the 27-year sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, a former kosher meatpacking plant executive convicted of 86 counts of federal bank fraud and money laundering. After Rubashkin was sentenced in 2009, politicians, law enforcement officials and legal experts argued that his case was tainted by prosecutorial misconduct, but the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his conviction and sentencing in 2011. Rubashkin and his family members were initially accused of a range of charges, including conspiracy to harbor undocumented immigrants for profit and child labor law violations.
Greek officials have reportedly charged seven people with criminal fraud and money laundering related to the sale of adulterated olive oil. The group allegedly added green dyes to sunflower seed oil then sold it off-market as extra-virgin olive oil. Most of the oil was sold in Greece or exported to Germany and other EU countries using invoices that were later destroyed. The Greek police reportedly became aware of the sale of adulterated oil when olive oil producers told the Hellenic Food Authority that their producer codes were being used on packages and products they did not sell.
The chairman of French wine merchant Raphaël Michel has been indicted on charges that he masterminded a scheme to label nearly 4 million cases of ordinary table wine as Rhône Valley wines, including Châteaunneuf-du-Pape and Côtes du Rhône. Guillaume Ryckwaert has been charged with fraud, deception and violations of consumer and tax codes. Several other company executives were taken into custody in Marseilles but released without charges. Agents of the French National Customs Judicial Service discovered the alleged scheme during a company audit in 2016. See The Times, August 4, 2017.
Three men have been convicted and sentenced for their roles in a conspiracy to sell at least 30 metric tons of horse meat as beef. The owner of a Danish supplier was sentenced to 3.5 years, while the company’s accountant received a suspended sentence. In addition, the owner of a London meat processor was given a 4.5- year sentence. The fraud was discovered in 2013, when the Food Safety Authority of Ireland found horse meat in a shipment detained for inspection in Northern Ireland. According to The Guardian, inspectors found microchips for three horses previously owned as pets or riding horses. The scheme reportedly may have involved as many as 50,000 horses from across Europe. Additional details about the scheme appear in Issues 560 and 641 of this Update. Issue 643