Debbie L. Smith, a quality control officer for New England Meat Packing LLC, has entered a guilty plea that could send her to federal prison for five years. Her sentencing is scheduled for December.
Smith, 60, from Ellington, CT, plead guilty to falsifying E. coli tests required by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Her boss, Memet “Matt” Beqiri, owner of Connecticut’s New England Meat Packing LLC, pleaded guilty in August to submitting fraudulent E. coli tests. Beqiri, 32, is from Tolland, CT.
By pleading guilty, Smith and Beqiri each gave up rights to trial and appeal. Beqiri is set to be sentenced in November. The defendants also must accept the judge’s obligation to consider federal sentencing guidelines.
According to court documents and statements made in court, New England Meat Packing LLC, located in Stafford Springs, is a federally inspected business engaged in the slaughtering, processing, selling and transporting of meat and meat food products for human consumption.
Pursuant to a USDA approved Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan for New England Meat Packing, the company is required to perform one generic E. coli carcass swab for every 300 animals slaughtered and to periodically collect ground beef samples for E. coli testing.
Beqiri, as the owner and general manager of New England Meat Packing, and Smith as the HACCP Coordinator/Quality Control Officer for the company were responsible for the testing.
Between Nov. 3, 2016, and Sept. 9, 2017, Smith prepared and submitted in the company’s Lab Sample Report binder, which the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) reviews, a total of 36 documents relating to 52 separate carcass swabs and ground beef samples on behalf of New England Meat Packing.
The 36 documents were each on the letterhead of a certified laboratory that tests food product samples to ensure safety and wholesomeness and appeared to have been signed by the laboratory director. The documents stated that the required E. coli testing of samples submitted by New England Meat Packing had been conducted and completed and that all 52 samples tested negative for E. coli.
In fact, none of the 52 carcass swabs or samples had been submitted to or tested by the identified laboratory, or any other laboratory, and the 36 documents were fraudulently prepared using laboratory letterhead obtained from the previous testing that New England Meat Packing had conducted with that laboratory.
The investigation revealed that Beqiri authorized the preparation and submission of the fabricated E. coli test results. During an interview with a USDA’s FSIS investigator, Beqiri admitted that the documents were fraudulent, and that his business did not collect and submit the samples to the certified laboratory because he did not correlate the potential impact on food safety with his sampling program and wanted to create the appearance he was compliant with all USDA HACCP testing requirements.
There have been no known instances of illnesses reported by anyone who consumed the meat in any of the states where the meat was distributed.
Smith pleaded guilty to one count of making and using a false document, a charge that carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years.
Both defendants are free on bond until their sentencing hearings.
The investigation was conducted by the FSIS Office of Investigations, Enforcement, and Audit. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah R. Slater.
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