The recent sentencing of Miguel Leal, former president of Mexican Cheese Producers Inc. of Darlington, WI, brought to an end criminal prosecution for events dating back to 2007. Leal, Cynthia Gutierrez, and Jose and Tony Zurita were indicted by a grand jury that sat during the winter of 2011. Charges were filed with the U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois early in 2012. Queso Cincho de Guerrero cheese wheelsAt the heart of the case was what happened to a cheese shipment that FDA found “contained violative presence of micro-biologic material and filth.” With further examination, FDA found the cheese was contaminated with SalmonellaE. coli, alkaline phosphatase and Staphylococcus. FDA would ultimately order the cheese “refused,” meaning it could not be imported to the U.S. and should be destroyed. The grand jury charged the four defendants with conspiracy to “wash” the cheese and scrap off the mold and fungus so it could be re-sold. The conspiracy included sending false documents to the FDA inspector who wanted the product destroyed. In 2014, Leal pleaded guilty to distributing tainted food and lying to federal inspectors. Government attorneys recommended 10 to 16 months of imprisonment, but U.S. District Court Judge James B. Zagel sentenced him to just five days of federal incarceration, with one year of federal supervised probation. He was fined $750,000. Zagel reportedly said that were it not for Leal’s role in deceiving the FDA inspectors, he would not have been inclined to give him any jail time. Gutierrez, the company’s finance and operations manager, and the two workers who did the cheese washing, were sentenced only to probation. No information was presented that anyone was sickened by consuming the re-sold cheese.