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Criminal conviction tops USDA quarterly enforcement report

Gilberto De Armas, the owner of Rubio’s Ranch in Miami, was sentenced to six months of house arrest after pleading guilty to one felony count of selling uninspected and adulterated meat.

He must also pay $ 600 in fines and special assessments and serve three years’ probation. De Armas’ conviction was the only criminal activity reported in the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s fourth quarter enforcement report.

De Armas entered his guilty plea in April and was sentenced in August in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue looks out over the production floor at Triumph Foods pork processing facility in St. Joseph, MO. Perdue visited the plant on April 2. The facility houses 2,800 employees. (USDA photo by Preston Keres)

The report, covering July 1 through Sept. 30, includes FSIS’s administrative, civil and criminal enforcement actions during the last quarter of the federal government’s FY 2017.

On Aug. 18, FSIS withdrew federal inspection services from Westminster Meats LLC in Westminster, VT. because of recurring statutory and regulatory violations. Westminister is contesting the withdrawal, and FSIS says a hearing is pending.

Also in the fourth quarter, USDA sought civil injunctive actions in U.S. District courts on three occasions, in August and September in Massachusetts and once in Pennsylvania.

In Massachusetts, the federal trial court permanently enjoined Hiep N. Ho and Dominic V. Ngo, owners of the Binh An International Grocery LLC, from violating FSIS statutes and regulations. A related complaint said the pair were offering for sale and selling meat that had not been inspected as required by federal law. The company also failed to maintain required business transaction records. The business is in Worchester, MA.

The U.S. District Court in Massachusetts also permanently enjoyed Mario’s Lebanese Syrian Bakery in Fall River, and owner Maroun El Lakis from violating FSIS regulations. The associated complaint says El Lakis and the bakery were selling meat not inspected by FSIS and not keeping the required business transaction records.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania permanently enjoined the J&B Poultry Market in Philadelphia and owner Johnny Wong from violating poultry inspection regulations. The complaint said Wong and J&B Poultry were selling non-inspected poultry products without maintaining business transaction records.

The July 1 to Sept. 30 period is FSIS’s fourth quarter as the federal government operates on a fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. FSIS’s Office of Investigation, Enforcement, and Audit (OIEA) issued 268 warning notices during the quarter, ending up with 1,232 warning notices for the year.

FSIS inspection personnel routinely write “non-compliance” reports as part of their duties, and plant owners and managers may appeal those findings. In the fourth quarter, FSIS inspectors performed more than 1.7 million verification procedures, finding compliance 98.3 percent of the time.

However, that left 29,277 instances of noncompliance. Establishments may appeal those rulings. During the fourth quarter, they filed 257 appeals. FSIS granted 83 and denied 115 with 29 still pending at the end of the period. Another 30 NRs were issued in 30 cases.

For the year, establishments under inspection filed 1,179 appeals. FSIS granted 311, denied 526, and wrote changed NRs in 134 cases. Another 208 were pending at year-end.

Imported meat and poultry products presented for routine inspection peaked during the quarter at more than 1.1 billion pounds. Imported egg products experienced their lowest quarter at 2.5 million pounds.

FSIS inspected almost 38.5 million livestock carcasses and more than 2.3 billion poultry carcasses during the period. Poultry was at its high for the year, while livestock is off slightly from its first-quarter peak.

OIEA detained 605,320 pounds of meat, poultry and egg productions in 81 actions. The FSIS Office of Field Operations (OFO) may also hold products through its district offices.

During the fourth quarter, the OFO Raleigh district detained 48,566 pounds in one action. It was the only OFO detention in FY 2017. OIEA held more than 2.6 million pounds during the year in 397 operations.

Finally, OFO, issued 19 prohibited activity notices during the period and 69 during the year.

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