Jury selection will begin July 16, 2015, in the federal criminal conspiracy case involving former Rancho Feeding Corp. co-owner Jesse J. Amaral Jr. The 76-year-old cattle company executive will be tried alone as three others, implicated in the alleged conspiracy to sell for human consumption cattle known to have cancerous eyeballs, have all made deals with the prosecution. Felix Sandoval Cabrera, 55, the foreman of Rancho’s slaughterhouse at Petaluma, CA, is the latest to reach a plea agreement with the government, entering a single guilty plea to count 7 of the original indictment last Aug. 14 charging him with distribution of adulterated, misbranded and uninspected meat. Earlier, Eugene D. Corda, the 65-year-old Rancho yardman, and 77-year-old Robert Singleton, Rancho’s other co-owner, also entered guilty pleas to the same sole count.

Government prosecutors allege that Rancho processed some cattle exhibiting signs of epithelioma, or lumps or other abnormalities in and around the eye.
That leaves only Amaral going to trial next July. The court-approved plea agreements the other three defendants have with the government are sealed, but it’s likely that all three have agreed to appear at the trial as government witnesses against him. The prosecution has charged the former Rancho co-owner with 11 federal felony counts. The government will attempt to prove to a jury that the Petaluma resident is guilty of one count of conspiracy to distribute adulterated, misbranded and uninspected meat, two counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, six counts of distribution of adulterated and misbranded meat, one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and two counts of mail fraud. If convicted on all counts, Amaral could be sentenced to more than 100 years in jail and fined more than $1.3 million. Proceedings for all the defendants are being held before U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer in San Francisco. He has scheduled a status conference for Singleton on Feb. 18, 2015, and another for Cabrera and Corda on Aug. 12, 2015, which will likely be after the Amaral trial has concluded. 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,” or 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,” according to the indictment. When cattle with these eye conditions arrived at the Petaluma slaughterhouse, Corda or another Rancho employee would allegedly place them in pen 9A, court 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, prosecutors say 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 allegedly told their employees to swap out uninspected cows with cancerous eyes with cattle that had already passed ante-mortem inspection. “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 un-inspected 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 found 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. In early 2014, with the federal investigation underway, Rancho recalled all of its beef production going back the previous year, or about 8.7 million pounds. It also was forced to close down and ultimately sell the Petaluma slaughterhouse. The facility has since resumed operations under new ownership.