The U.S. District Court for Northern Iowa has accepted the government’s plea bargain with a former Midamar Corp. operations manager, clearing the way for 50-year-old Philip Payne to become a witness against his former employers. Under the agreement, Payne pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to make and deliver false certificates and writings in exchange for the prosecution deferring two additional federal felony counts for defrauding the United States. Payne has told prosecutors that from about April 2007 through December 2009, employees of Cedar Rapids-based Midamar knowingly, and without government authorization, removed USDA marks of inspection from meat products and replaced them with marks of inspection from facilities other than where the animals were slaughtered. The actions, according to Payne, were taken with the knowledge and approval of Midamar’s owners and managers. “Further, false USDA export documents, health certificates, and Halal export certificates were generated for at least 22 shipments of beef during the same period,” according to Steve Young, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa. “These and other actions were taken with the intent to make the beef eligible for import into countries that would otherwise not have accepted the beef shipment,” the statement continued. Payne has provided an inside view of the operations of a company pressured by increased demand. To meet demand for Halal beef from customers in Southeast Asia, Midamar sometimes substituted Kosher beef without involving Muslim experts in Halal slaughter practices, he alleged. The government has agreed to dismiss the two counts against Payne that are now deferred from prosecution for 18 months if he cooperates at the trial of the others. He has agreed to pay a $20,000 fine for his guilty plea on one count and could also face one year in jail followed by supervised release, although his cooperation could cut that as well. Trials are scheduled to start on Feb. 17, first for brothers Yahya Nasser Aossey and Jalel Farris Aossey and associated business entities, and then on March 9 for their father, 73-year-old William B. Aossey Jr.