After an Iowa  jury found the founder of Midamar Corp. guilty of a scheme to falsify documents behind certain Halal beef shipments several years ago, others involved “plead out.” But Midamar and Jalel Aossey, who had to step down as head of  the closely-held family corporation, are asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit based in St. Louis to review one aspect of the criminal case. judgereadinglawbook_406x250At issue, is whether only the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and not the district courts, has the jurisdiction to enter a criminal judgement premised on the charge of false labeling in violation of the Federal Meat Inspection Act. In an era when the Department of Justice (DOJ) has a unit to help U.S. district attorneys bring criminal cases against errant food industry executives, where jurisdiction lies is an important issue that goes well beyond the northern Iowa Halal food exporter. Bringing the appeal is Birmingham, AL, attorney Jason R. Klinowski with Wallace, Jordan, Ratliff, & Brandt LLC.  The appellate attorney for Midamar and Jalel Aossey wants the circuit judges to accept full briefs and hear oral arguments in the case. The way he sees it, federal law gives “exclusive responsibility” for enforcement of labeling violations to the U.S. agriculture secretary. Government attorneys brought charges against both Midamar and Jalel Aossey in U.S. District Court for Northern Iowa. The indictment charged the defendants with conspiracy to place false labels about the slaughterhouse of origin on Halal meat products. The defendants sought to have the charges dismissed for lack of jurisdiction by the district court, arguing then — as they do now — that existing law limits district court jurisdiction while reserving exclusive responsibility over false labeling to the agriculture secretary. The district court denied the defendants’ motion, and the case ended in plea agreements that said the jurisdiction issue could be appealed. The appeal says the Secretary of Agriculture has granted the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) the authority to investigate labeling and other violations “and to render the appropriate penalties.” The FSIS Office of Program Evaluation, Enforcement and Review (OPEER) “must afford suspected violations due process rights” and may impose penalties including suspension of inspection services “without which meat and meat food products may not be exported.” Klinowski points out that final decisions of the Secretary are subject to review by “the appropriate U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.” Midamar went through just such a process during the time when the violations occurred. It was suspended and then took corrective action including the “complete cessation of labeling practices and the institution of employee and officer training about FMIA requirements.” The FSIS lifted the suspension of inspection services. The announcement came in July 2011. The 92-count indictment against Midamar Corp., Islamic Services of America, and brothers Jalel Aossey and Yahya Aossey was filed on Dec. 5, 2014, or, according to Klinowski, three years “after FSIS determined that Midamar’s corrective and preventive actions were satisfactory under the FMIA.” Klinowski says: “The record does not show any formal referral from FSIS to the Department of Justice.” But, he says, DOJ went forward on its own, using the same grounds FSIS already used to discipline the Cedar Rapids, IA, food company. “The violations were said to have occurred between April 2009 and January 2010 —the same range of dates as the violations identified in the FSIS notice — and earlier, from June 2007,” the appeal notes. The indictment itself refers to “labels on packages of beef products that made it appear as though beef was slaughtered at an establishment where it was not actually slaughtered” for shipment to Malaysia and Indonesia. “The judgments against defendants Midamar and Jalel Aossey should be vacated and the action remanded to the district court for dismissal due to a lack of jurisdiction. In this case, the United States has charged, and the district court has entered a judgment against, the defendants for conspiring to mislabel meat products,” says Klinowski. The first criminal case was brought against Midamar founder William B. Aossey Jr., age 74, who was found guilty by jury last summer. He was convicted of 15 out of the 19 counts against him. He was sentenced to two years in jail and fined $60,000. He is currently in Oklahoma City at the federal prison that functions as a transit center. The elder Aossey may be transferred before his release date of April 8, 2017. It was after his jury convictions that the others charged in the scheme reached plea agreements with the government. Under the agreements Midamar was fined $20,000 and Islamic Services of America was fined $60,000. The two corporate entities also agreed to pay $600,000 as a forfeiture. Jules Aossey recently surrendered to the Thomson prison, which was acquired by the federal government from the State of Illinois a couple of years ago. Aossey is scheduled for release on Feb. 15, 2017. He agreed to step down as the company president. He was sentenced o a year and a day in federal prison. The 41-year old plead guilty to the felony of conspiracy involving the interstate sale of misbranded meat. In addition to the jail time, he was personally fined $30,000. His brother Yahya Nasser Aossey, 45, was placed on probation for his guilty pleas to two misdemeanors for the sale and transport of misbranded meat. He was also fined $5,000. Yahya Aossey is an officer and director of Midamar Corp., and USDA is allowing him to continue in those positions. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)