The sentencings of defendants in a scheme to fool the U.S. Department of Agriculture and sell cattle with diseased eyeballs has again been delayed, some into next year. After spending 14 minutes hearing a defense motion on Sept. 3, federal Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley continued the hearing to allow the attorneys to work out how so-called “protective orders” are to be handled as the case reaches its conclusion. The time spent on the issue in September, however, was enough to push back sentencing dates. Sentencing of Rancho Feeding Corporation owner Jesse J. Amaral Jr. continues to be scheduled for 10 a.m, Dec. 16, 2015. However, the sentencings of defendants Eugene D. Corda and Felix Sandoval Cabrera have been rescheduled from this week until 10 a.m. on Jan. 20, 2016. Defendant Robert W. Singleton, who was also once scheduled for sentencing this week, will instead appear for that purpose on 10 a.m., Dec. 23, 2015, one week after Amaral. The sentencing dates have crawled along the court’s calendar due to the government’s desire to impose protective orders on the defendants and their attorneys to prevent public disclosure of certain business records of the customers and downstream customers who did business with Rancho Feeding and Rancho Veal. The so-called “loss discovery” is expected to contain information involving “confidential and commercially sensitive” business plans, customer information, strategies, and procedures. The order would prevent defense teams from allowing physical possession of the business records by any outsiders. Nor do the orders permit anyone on a defense team to divulge the contents of the business records to such outsiders. The orders also require the defense to return anything not used to the government within a set timeframe, and they even dictate that the materials must be kept under the personal control of the defense attorneys at all times, whether at their homes or offices or in their vehicles. If the final sentencings do occur in January, it will mark two years since USDA’s investigation at the Petaluma, CA, slaughterhouse led to the Valentine Day’s nationwide recall of 8,742,700 pounds of beef, which was pretty much everything produced by the plant run by Rancho Feeding Corporation from Jan. 1, 2013, to Jan. 7, 2014. The latter was the last day Rancho ever produced meat at the plant, which was only able to resume production when new owners took possession. Rancho’s demise and the massive recall damaged others, including some Northern California grass-fed cattle operations that relied on Rancho for custom slaughter services. Related claims have been filed against Rancho in California courts. It appears the government wants to examine these claims, which might total as much as $20 million, under the protective orders for purposes of the Pre-Sentence Investigative Reports and the restitution phase of sentencing. In federal criminal court, Amaral has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute adulterated, misbranded and uninspected meat. Michael A. Dias, who represents Amaral in both state and federal courts on both the criminal and civil matters, has said the protective orders federal prosecutors want are more secretive than those required by the state court in deciding the monetary disputes. He’s also argued that certain impacts of recalls have always been public information, such as the amount of the product recovered. Singleton, who owned Rancho Veal, along with the real property, equipment, and certain meat produced at Rancho Feeding, entered into a plea agreement with the government on Aug. 22, 2014. Both Corda and Cabrera, the two employees involved in the scheme, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute adulterated, misbranded and uninspected meat. Amaral, Cabrera, and Corda were named in a federal grand jury indictment filed Aug. 14, 2014, involving conspiracy and fraud, while Singleton was named separately on a single count of distributing adulterated and misbranded meat. Singleton was first to reach a plea agreement with government prosecutors. He acknowledged that he and Amaral instructed the two employees to carve the “USDA Condemned” stamps out of the carcasses of cattle found to be showing signs of eye cancer by USDA inspectors. Cabrera and Corda were then told to switch out diseased heads with healthy ones so the adulterated and uninspected animals could be cleared for processing as human food.
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