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Plea Agreements Could Lead to Second Iowa Halal Trial Being Scratched

A second criminal trial in Iowa’s halal beef case will likely be scratched if the court accepts plea agreements that four defendants have reached with the government. Those defendants, along with their attorneys, are scheduled to appear at individual hearings next Friday before Chief Magistrate Judge Jon Scoles in Cedar Rapids, IA, to enter guilty pleas that they’ve offered prosecutors.

Midamar Corporation, Islamic Services of America (ISA), and brothers Yahya Nasser and Jalel Aossey were scheduled for a jury trial starting Sept. 28 that was expected to take eight days.

2halalmeat_406x250The defendants are charged in Count 1 with conspiracy to make and use materially false statements and documents in matter within the jurisdiction of the USDA; make false statements on export certificates with intent to defraud; sell misbranded meat with intent to defraud; and commit mail and wire fraud.

Counts 2 through 4 charge the making of false statements on export certificates with intent to defraud. Counts 5 through 47 charge wire fraud. Defendants are charged in Counts 48-91 with engaging in illegal international financial transactions. Count 92 charges a conspiracy to engage in illegal international financial transactions. The indictment also includes a money laundering forfeiture allegation.

With some wording differences, all four defendants filed notices of intent to change their pleas on Sept. 3 or 4.

Midamar attorney Haytham Faraj of Chicago notified the court only of “the defendant’s intent to change its plea of NOT GUILTY to a plea of GUILTY to Count 1 of the Indictment. This notice is filed to alert the Court that the defendant is indeed prepared to go forward.”

Richardson, TX, attorney Charles D. Swift filed notice for the Islamic Services of America, saying that it was “pursuant to a plea agreement to be entered into with the government.” Swift is associated with the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America.

The notices for the two Aossey brothers just reference agreements “entered into with the government.” Cedar Rapids attorney Michael K. Lahammer represents Jalel Aossey and Birmingham, AL, attorney Jason R. Klinowski represents Yahya Nasser Aossey.

In response to an inquiry, Midamar Communications Director Sara Sayed emailed this statement to Food Safety News:

“Midamar reached final settlement agreements with the US Department of Justice and USDA resolving charges stemming from a December 2014 indictment of the company. Pursuant to that agreement, Midamar has taken full responsibility for wrongful conduct occurring between 2007 and 2012. Midamar and its owners sincerely apologize to all its customers and supporters for the errors in judgment that led to the charges. Midamar is firmly committed to full and complete regulatory and export compliance and continuous improvement of our processes. The settlement agreements resolve all open matters with regard to past regulatory matters, implement additional compliance measures, including training of management and staff. These settlements permit and enable the company to continue delivering the high-quality food products that have been the hallmark of Midamar’s decades-long operations, both domestically and internationally. “

Midamar’s founder, William B. Aossey Jr., was found guilty in a mid-July jury trial of 15 of 19 federal felonies with which he was charged. He was taken into custody pending sentencing, which has not yet been scheduled. His convictions came on a similar set of facts the government was readying for a second trial against the other four defendants.

Prosecutors on Sept. 1 gave the court a written summary of their case. According to the summary, here’s what the government planned to present at the second trial:

“The evidence will show defendant Midamar Corporation was engaged in the sale of halal food products worldwide. The evidence in the case relates primarily to Midamar’s sale of beef products. Defendants ISA provided halal inspection and certification services to attest that a variety of products, including beef products, were slaughtered in accordance with certain standards represented by ISA and Midamar.

“Midamar was founded by William (Bill) Aossey, Jr. Bill officially served as president of Midamar until at least 2010. Bill’s son, Jalel (Jalel) Aossey, took over as president following his father’s tenure. Bill’s other son, and Jalel’s brother, Yahya (Yahya) Nasser Aossey served as Secretary and Treasurer. All three were directors of Midamar. All three Aosseys were also directors of ISA. Islamic Services of America was started in about the early 1980’s by Bill Aossey. ISA was incorporated in 2004 by the three Aosseys. In 2011, Jalel and Yahya incorporated ISA, Inc., doing business as Islamic Services of America, and took over the worldwide certification services from ISA.

“During the relevant time period, Midamar’s primary beef supplier was PM Beef (PM) in Windom, Minnesota. J.F. O’Neill Packing Co. (O’Neill) in Omaha, Nebraska, had also supplied some beef to Midamar for export, however, by the summer of 2007, O’Neill was no longer supplying beef for export. Midamar transacted business with customers in Malayasia and Indonesia (and other countries) during the time covered by the indictment. Both Malaysia and Indonesia would only accept beef slaughtered and produced at a slaughter facility specifically inspected and approved by each respective country. During the pertinent time, O’Neill was approved to export to Malaysia and Indonesia, but PM was not. The defendants were all aware of this fact.

“The USDA had inspectors at Midamar who were responsible, in part, for verifying that products being shipped to Malaysia and Indonesia were of the type that would be accepted by those countries and met the export/import requirements for those countries.

“In order to circumvent the Malaysia and Indonesia sourcing requirements and USDA inspectors, Bill Aossey directed employees of Midamar to fabricate and falsify shipping records, and to change USDA establishment numbers placed on products produced at PM. This was done to make the products appear as if they had been produced at O’Neill, when that was not the case. By doing this, Midamar was able to fool the USDA inspectors and to export products to Malaysia and Indonesia that would not have otherwise been accepted for import into those countries. ISA certificates were also falsified to make it falsely appear as if the beef products had been slaughtered at O’Neill.

“Midamar and ISA conducted their international business transactions by means of phone, email, and the internet. Midamar and ISA conducted financial transactions related to their business by means of wire transfer, among other methods. Midamar, ISA and the individual defendants profited from this scheme. At all times material to this matter, Midamar and ISA also maintained public websites where they advertised their products and services. It was also possible for the public to purchase Midamar beef and other food products via a website. Jalel was primarily responsible for administering the websites and approving their content.

“Several representations made on the websites were not accurate; were misleading in material ways; and were capable or influencing the beliefs and understandings of persons who read the representations. Such misrepresentation were also capable of influencing the decisions of customers and consumers in deciding whether to purchase or consume Midamar branded or ISA certified products.

“Midamar also sold beef to customers in Kuwait and UAE that it knew had not been slaughtered in accordance with standards represented on Midamar websites or established by the foreign countries. Many ISA certificates that accompanied beef shipments to Kuwait and UAE were not accurate despite corporate officials knowing the documents were not accurate. Customers sent money from outside the United States to Midamar’s account in the United States in payment for these beef shipments. Money sent to Midamar from overseas was used by Midamar to promote the ongoing fraudulent conduct activity that was committed in part by use of the wire.”

Halal food requirements established by the Muslim faith are the standards being referred to in the U.S. Attorney’s summary of the case.

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