Eugene D. Corda, 65, the top yardman responsible for receiving cattle and moving them for inspection and slaughter at Rancho Feeding Corporation’s slaughterhouse in Petaluma, CA, has very likely become a government witness. Under terms of a sealed plea agreement with government attorneys, Corda has now pleaded guilty to just a single count contained the Aug. 14 indictment that charges key Rancho personnel with a conspiracy in processing cattle that should have been condemned for a cancerous eye condition or other diseases. Corda was one of three men charged in the original indictment. He originally pleaded not guilty to the charges, as have Rancho co-owner Jesse J. Amaral Jr., 76, and Felix Sandoval Cabrera, 55. Separately, the other Rancho co-owner, Robert Singleton, 77, has also pleaded guilty to one count of distributing adulterated, misbranded and uninspected meat. Corda and Singleton will likely testify as government witnesses against Amaral and Cabrera in a U.S. District Court criminal trial to be held in San Francisco early next year. The roles the four men allegedly played in moving beef from cows with cancerous eyeballs past USDA meat inspectors and into the market for human consumption are contained in court documents. Amaral, Rancho’s president and general manager, was in control of the day-to-day operations at the Petaluma slaughterhouse located 60 miles north of San Francisco. Singleton’s role was to buy cattle and supervise processed beef for distribution. Cabrera, Rancho’s foreman, was responsible for the staff and the “kill floor,” including being responsible for “knocking cattle,” which means stunning them immediately prior to slaughter. As yardman, Corda was responsible for receiving cattle and moving them to the proper areas for inspection and slaughter. Singleton bought cattle from both auction houses and individual farmers and ranchers in Northern California and Nevada. “Some of the purchased cattle exhibited signs of epithelioma, that is lumps or other abnormalities around the eye, and were less expensive than cattle that appeared completely healthy,” government attorneys claim. When cattle arrived at the Petaluma slaughterhouse with these eye conditions, Corda or another Rancho employee would place them in pen 9A, the documents state. The owners were in charge of determining the order in which cattle were processed for inspection and slaughter. When instructed, Corda moved cattle into the pen designated for ante mortem inspection by the USDA veterinarian or Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) personnel. Cattle passing ante mortem inspection generally went immediately into the kill chute, where they were knocked, slaughtered, and inspected again post mortem. After passing the post mortem inspection, the carcass was tagged and could be sold. In mid-2012, Amaral is accused of ordering Rancho employees to process cattle that were condemned by the USDA veterinarian. At his instruction, Cabrera allegedly had workers cut the “USDA Condemned” stamps out of the cattle carcasses so they could be processed for sale and distribution. At about the same time, court documents state that Amaral gave the foreman, Cabrera, and the yardman, Corda, directions on how to circumvent inspection procedures for cows with cancerous eyes. Both Amaral and Singleton told their employees to swap out uninspected cows with cancerous eyes with cattle that had already passed ante mortem inspection, according to the documents. “Cabrera knocked the cancer eye cows, and he or another kill floor employee at his instruction slaughtered them and deposited their heads in the gut bin,” the indictment states. “Cabrera, or another kill floor employee at his instruction, placed heads from apparently healthy cows, which had been previously reserved, next to the cancer eye cow carcasses. “The switch and slaughter of uninspected cancer eye cows occurred during the inspectors’ lunch breaks, at a time during which plant operations were supposed to cease,” the charging documents continue. “When the inspectors returned from lunch for post mortem inspections, they were unaware that the carcasses they were inspecting belonged to cancer eye cows that had escaped ante mortem inspection.” Based on Rancho’s records, the government figures that, from January 2013 to January 2014, beef from 101 head of condemned cattle and 79 cows with eye cancer was processed for human consumption. For every diseased animal that he got past USDA inspectors, Cabrera allegedly got a $50 bonus. While Rancho made money by selling beef that should have been condemned, the documents state that it stopped there. They not only deducted the sales price for condemned animals from their invoices to farmers, ranchers and auction houses, they added charges for the disposal fees. Early in the investigation, Rancho recalled all of its beef production going back for the previous year, or about 8.7 million pounds. It also was forced to close down and ultimately sell the Petaluma slaughterhouse. It has since resumed operations under new ownership. The maximum sentences Corda and Singleton face for pleading guilty to one count each of distribution of adulterated, misbranded and uninspected meat are three years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Cooperating with the government usually brings favorable consideration at sentencing. By contrast, if Amaral is convicted on all 11 felony counts with which he has been charged (conspiracy, mail fraud, aiding and abetting, and distributing of adulterated, misbranded, and uninspected meat), he could be looking at up to 103 years in prison and fines totaling more than $1.3 million. And if Cabrera is convicted of the eight counts he faces, he could be given a maximum of 43 years in prison and fines totaling up to $560,000. Also, various forfeitures and special assessments could be part any sentencing. All four men remain free on unsecured bonds. The trial date for Amaral and Cabrera will likely be set at a Dec. 17 status conference. That is also the next time that Corda is scheduled to appear. Singleton, who was was recently allowed to travel out of state for a funeral in Texas, has his next appearance scheduled on Nov. 26.