Sentencing four defendants in a scheme to slaughter cattle with cancerous eyes and sell the meat for human consumption is going to take longer than expected.
The U.S. District Court for Northern California has rescheduled the sentencing of Jesse J. Amaral Jr. to Sept. 2, 2015, while the sentencing of Eugene D. Corda, Felix Sandoval Cabrera, and Robert W. Singleton is set for Oct. 7, 2015. Sentencing for all four had previously been scheduled for Aug. 12. All four defendants were involved in running the Petaluma, CA, slaughterhouse that was forced to shut down and recall a year’s worth of beef production (about 9 million pounds) when the scheme was discovered by USDA officials. The Petaluma facility, located about an hour north of San Francisco, served the area’s grass-fed beef producers and others. Some lost their beef in the enforcement actions taken against the plant. Protective orders filed jointly by government and defense attorneys (except Amaral’s) over the handling of the business records of those who did business with Rancho Feeding Corporation and Rancho Veal Corporation are at least partially responsible for the delay. Rancho Feeding, then the slaughterhouse operator, was co-owned by Amaral, while Rancho Veal owned the property, equipment and meat products produced in Petaluma. “The government is preparing to disclose business records provided by Rancho Feeding and Rancho Veal customers and downstream customers, documenting the losses they experienced as a result of the defendants’ criminal conduct,” they write in one of the motions calling for the protective order. “This discovery contains information that would disclose confidential and commercially sensitive business plans, customer information, strategies, and procedures of these customers and downstream customers.” The draft order notes that some of this information was disclosed in civil lawsuits, but nevertheless outlines a plan for how information will be shared with the defense teams and how confidential business records will be kept under seal if used. Amaral’s attorney Michael A. Dias opposes the draft protective order, saying that Rancho Feeding is involved in a civil lawsuit with RBR Meat Co. in Los Angeles Superior Court and expects to reach settlements with Custom Foods LLC, S&S Food LLC, and RBR Meat Company. Dias says there is a protective order in the civil case, but it is “not nearly as restrictive” as the federal government’s protective order. The government believes Amaral was calling the shots in a scheme that had Rancho Feeding employees Cabrera and Corda carving “USDA Condemned” stamps out of cattle carcasses to conceal from USDA inspectors cows showing signs of eye cancer. They would allegedly switch the diseased cattle heads with healthy heads and then process the adulterated and uninspected carcasses for human consumption. Singleton, Cabrera, and Corda have each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute adulterated, misbranded and uninspected meat, as Amaral also did, although his plea agreement with the government remains sealed. When the Petaluma slaughterhouse re-opened in the spring of 2014, it was under the new ownership of Marin Sun Farms. A year later, it obtain USDA organic certification. Among its 50 employees is the 66-year-old yardman Corda, one of the four defendants in the Rancho case. Marin Sun Farms owner David Evans told local media he believes in second chances, and Corda is trusted by customers as a skilled and patient animal handler. The Rancho recall impacted 44,000 retail establishments, according to USDA. No illnesses were ever associated with the recall, but North Coast cattle ranchers, who used the Petaluma plant for custom slaughter, were believed to have suffered extensive financial damages. Those damages are likely to come up during the restitution phase at sentencing.
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