Meat processor sent to prison over tainted meat

A co-owner of a Petaluma meat processing plant was sentenced in federal court Wednesday to a year and a day in federal prison for conspiring to distribute adulterated, misbranded and un-inspected meat.

Jesse “Babe” Amaral Jr., 78, of Petaluma, co-owner of the now defunct Rancho Feeding Corporation, faced the maximum penalty of 60 months in prison that was recommended by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Office’s spokesman Abraham Simmons said.

Amaral will serve two years of supervised release, one of them in a re-entry facility, after his year in prison, Simmons said. Amaral has until March 25 to begin serving his term, Simmons said.

Four men were indicted in August 2014 in connection with the distribution of adulterated, misbranded and un-inspected meat between 2012 and January 2014 that led to a nationwide recall of 8.7 million pounds of beef in February 2014 and the closing of the Rancho Feeding Corporation.

The conspiracy entailed carving “U.S.D.A. Condemned” stamps out of the carcasses to conceal from United States Department of Agriculture inspectors cows that showed signs of eye cancer, according to the U.S.¬†Attorney’s Office.

The heads of the diseased cows were replaced with healthy cow heads, and the adulterated and un-inspected carcasses were then processed for human consumption, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

The incidents happened during USDA inspectors’ lunch breaks when plant operations were supposed to cease at the slaughterhouse at 1522 Petaluma Blvd. N., the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

In addition to the conspiracy allegation, Amaral was charged with distributing the adulterated, misbranded and un-inspected meat, mail fraud and mail fraud conspiracy by submitting fraudulent cattle invoices to ranchers and farmers between 2012 and Jan. 10, 2014. Amaral did not plead guilty to the alleged fraud but admitted the facts of the fraud allegations, Simmons said.

Amaral pleaded guilty on Feb. 18, 2015 to the conspiracy to distribute the adulterated and un-inspected meat charge and admitted he directed Rancho employees to process the cattle condemned by a USDA veterinarian, Acting United States Attorney Brian J. Stretch said.

Amaral also admitted he sought to circumvent inspection procedures for cattle with eye cancer symptoms and process them for human consumption without a full inspection, Stretch said.

Amaral reached a restitution agreement with the mail fraud victims and farmers and large processors, his attorney Michael Dias said:

“He liquidated all his assets to make sure they were compensated to their satisfaction. He met with them and settled all their claims.”

Eugene Corda, 66, of Petaluma, Rancho’s yardman, and Felix Cabrera, 56, of Santa Rosa, Rancho’s “kill floor” supervisor, were charged with distribution of adulterated, misbranded and un-inspected meat, conspiracy to commit those offenses and conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

Cabrera was compensated $50 for each condemned carcass or un-inspected cow with eye cancer that Rancho distributed, according to the federal indictment.

Cabrera pleaded guilty in 2014 to conspiracy to distribute the bad beef, and Corda pleaded guilty to distributing the adulterated un-inspected meat, Stretch said.

Robert Singleton, 79, co-owner of Rancho Veal Corporation, was charged in August 2014 with one count of distributing the adulterated, misbranded and un-inspected meat. He pleaded guilty and admitted he participated in the scheme to conceal the diseased cows from inspection and process them for human consumption, Stretch said.

Singleton also admitted he participated in instructing employees to carve “U.S.D.A. Condemned” stamps out of the cattle to conceal the presence of eye cancer from inspectors and sending fraudulent invoices to ranchers, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Singleton and Corda are scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer March 2 and Cabrera on March 23.

Dias said Breyer’s sentence of Amaral was “fair and well thought out”:

“The judge said it required some incarceration because it was a serious offense.”

Dias said Amaral has had three heart attacks, has skin cancer and is on 20 medications.