SAN FRANCISCO (CN) -- A Northern California slaughterhouse swapped out diseased cow heads and told workers to carve "USDA Condemned" out of cow carcasses in order to push tainted meat onto the consumer market, according to an indictment unsealed Monday in Federal Court.
The federal prosecutor accuses two owners, a foreman and another employee of Rancho Feeding Corporation with distributing adulterated meat in violation of federal meat inspection laws.
According to the indictment and a separate criminal information, from 2012 to early 2014 owners Jesse "Babe" Amaral and Robert Singleton directed foreman Felix Cabrera and fellow employee Eugene Corda to slaughter cows showing signs of epithelioma, or "cancer eye," during USDA inspectors' lunch breaks.
Plant operations were supposed to stop during inspectors' lunch breaks. According to the documents, the defendants concealed the diseased cow heads by swapping them with healthy cow heads for the purpose of post-mortem inspections.
"Cancer eye" is a disease that can result in condemnation.
As a result, Petaluma's Rancho Feeding distributed 79 diseased cattle that did not undergo full USDA inspection, according to the indictment.
During the same timeframe, Amaral allegedly told Cabrera to process cattle that had been condemned by a USDA veterinarian.
According to the indictment, Cabrera directed Rancho employees under his supervision to carve "USDC Condemned" stamps out of the carcasses for transport, sale and distribution, so that Rancho could distribute more than 100 condemned cattle.
The indictment claims that Amaral charged farmers "handling fees" based on false statements that their cattle had died or been condemned, though he knew the cattle had been sold for human consumption.
As a result of the federal investigation, Rancho Feeding voluntarily recalled 8.7 million pounds of beef products in February this year.
The indictment, returned by a federal grand jury on Aug. 14, charges Amaral, Corda and Cabrera with conspiracy to and distribution of adulterated, misbranded and uninspected meat and mail fraud conspiracy.
Amaral also was charged with mail fraud and mail fraud conspiracy in the false invoice scheme.
The maximum penalties for the crimes range from 3 to 20 years and fines can vary from $10,000 to $250,000.
Two documents, the indictment
and parallel criminal information
charge the various Rancho actors with separate aspects of an overall scheme to distribute adulterated, misbranded and uninspected meat.