Slaughterhouse owner pleads guilty to processing cancerous cattle

The co-owner of a Petaluma slaughterhouse that processed sick cattle for human consumption, some with eye cancer, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in San Francisco today to a conspiracy charge.

Jesse “Babe” Amaral Jr., owner of the now-defunct Rancho Feeding Corporation, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute adulterated, misbranded and un-inspected meat, United States Attorney Melinda Haag, said.

Amaral, 77, is the fourth former Rancho Feeding Corporation employee to plead guilty to charges stemming from the investigation of the slaughterhouse’s practices. Amaral admitted that between 2012 and Jan. 10, 2014, he knowingly and with intent to defraud directed Rancho employees to process for human consumption cattle that had been condemned by the United States Department of Agriculture’s veterinarian, Haag said.

Amaral also admitted directing employees to circumvent inspection procedures for cattle with symptoms of eye cancer and to process those cattle for human consumption without full inspection, Haag said. Amaral also admitted knowingly causing Rancho Feeding Corporation to submit fraudulent cattle invoices to farmers between at least 2012 and January 2014, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The maximum penalty for mail fraud and mail fraud conspiracy is 20 years imprisonment, three years supervised release and a $250,000 fine, Haag said. The maximum penalty for conspiring to distribute adulterated meat is five years in prison, three years’ supervised release and a $250,000 fine, Haag said.

Amaral is scheduled to be sentenced July 1 before U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer. The offenses between 2012 and January 2014 led to a nationwide recall of 8.7 million pounds of beef in February 2014 and the closure of Rancho Feeding Corporation.

The USDA’s Office of Inspector General, Investigations, Western Region investigated the slaughterhouse’s practices. On Aug. 18, 2014, a federal grand jury in San Francisco indicted Amaral, 78, Eugene Corda, 66, Rancho’s yardman, and Felix Cabrera, 56, Rancho’s “kill floor” supervisor. Amaral, Corda and Cabrera were charged with distribution of adulterated, misbranded and un-inspected meat, conspiracy to commit the same offense, and mail fraud conspiracy.

Amaral also was charged with mail fraud and mail fraud conspiracy in a separate scheme to defraud farmers by false invoicing. Robert Singleton, 78, owner of Petaluma-based Rancho Veal Corporation, was charged by information on Aug. 18, 2014 with one count of distributing adulterated, misbranded and un-inspected meat.

The maximum penalty for that offense is three years’ imprisonment, one year supervised release and a $10,000 fine. Singleton also admitted he participated in a scheme where employees were instructed to carve “USDA Condemned” stamps out of cattle carcasses to conceal from the USDA inspections the cows that showed signs of cancer eye, Haag said.

The scheme involved replacing the diseased heads of the cows with healthy cow heads and processing the adulterated and un-inspected carcasses for human consumption, Haag said. Singleton also admitted participating in the scheme to send fraudulent invoices to farmers.

Corda and Cabrera pleaded guilty in 2014 to conspiracy to distribute adulterated, misbranded and un-inspected meat. They also face a maximum 5-year prison term three years’ supervised release and a $250,000 crime. A pre-sentencing status hearing for Singleton, Cabrera and Corda is scheduled for Aug. 12 before U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer.