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Kansas City Poultry Processors Face Federal Charges

Two executives of a family-owned Kansas meat company are charged in a six-count criminal indictment with processing chickens after USDA inspectors left for the day, selling them as if they were USDA-inspected, and then shipping the poultry across state lines.

The 10-page indictment has plenty of detail about the criminal charges for the unusual violations, but does not contain any explanation about the motives of father and son, Craig and Jason Cunningham.

They own the 12-year-old Hitchin’ Post Steak Co. Inc. in Kansas City, KS, which is a USDA-inspected meat processing company. Its USDA-inspected products were eligible for shipment in interstate commerce.

While the company name suggesst it is in the beef business, it shifted to being primarily in poultry in 2008.

According to the grand jury indictment, meat and poultry processors that need to operate outside normal business hours must notify USDA so that inspectors are on-site during any extended processing hours.

The indictment alleges that beginning in 2008, general manager Craig Cunningham and vice president Jason Cunningham — both with daily oversight responsibilities at the processing plant — “knowingly and intentionally conspired and agreed together and with each other, and with other persons known and unknown” to commit the offenses.

Both are charged with selling and transporting poultry as human food that was at the time both adulterated and misbranded.

Further the men are charged with using the USDA mark of inspection without authorization, and knowingly misrepresenting products by presenting them as if they’d passed inspection.

The pair is charged with processing and shipping about 400,000 pounds of poultry products throughout 2008, including split broiler chickens, chicken leg quarters and whole chicken wings. The misbranded and adulterated poultry went into interstate commerce, ending up in California, St. Lucia, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Missouri.

The indictment does not say if the Hitchin’ Post executive ever sought after-hours inspection service from USDA.  Meat processors are not charged for inspection services, which are taxpayer-funded.

The Hitchin’ Post sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009, according to the Kansas City Star.  It said the company and affiliate HP Distribution LLP had about 200 employees.

Craig and Jason Cunningham have not been available for comment and the indictment does not list their attorney’s name.  If convicted, the pair could face up to nine years in federal prison and fines of up to $600,000 for the six counts charged.

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