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Arrests Made Over Contaminated Cheese

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Friday that the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, FDA Office of Criminal Investigation Miami Field Office, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had arrested two people for introducing adulterated food products into interstate commerce.  Francisca Josefina Lopez, 40, and Jorge Alexis Ochoa Lopez, 34, both of Honduras, were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and FDA special agents working with the Miami-Dade Police Department on April 22.  

According to the complaint filed with the U.S. Magistrate Court in Miami, Francisca Lopez and Jorge Lopez imported four shipments of cheese from Nicaragua between December 2009 and March 2010, with a declared value of more than $322,000.  Testing by the FDA district laboratory in Atlanta revealed that 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.

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.
 
In a press release issued Friday by the Office of Criminal Investigations:

“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 [Staphylococcus] aureus and returned the product. Despite that, the cheese was repackaged and sold to other customers.”
 
Charges were brought under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and the anti-smuggling statute.  The defendants were arraigned in United States Magistrate Court in Miami yesterday.  At press time it was unclear as to whether they had been arrested on bail.
 
Felony convictions under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act carry possible sentences of up to three years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 for each violation. Violations of the antismuggling 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.

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