SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A slaughterhouse foreman admitted he conspired to swap out diseased cow heads and carve "USDA Condemned" out of cow carcasses, to push tainted meat onto the market.
Felix Sandoval Cabrera pleaded guilty last week to a federal charge of conspiracy to distribute adulterated, misbranded and uninspected meat.
Prosecutors accused two owners and a fellow employee of Rancho Feeding Corp. of a similar charge.
According to the indictment and a separate criminal information, from 2012 to early 2014 owners Jesse "Babe" Amaral and Robert Singleton directed Cabrera and employee Eugene D. Corda to slaughter cows showing signs of epithelioma, or "cancer eye," during USDA inspectors' lunch breaks, when operations were supposed to cease.
According to the criminal indictment and information, 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, the now-shuttered slaughterhouse in Petaluma 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 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.
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.
Cabrera was referred to probation after the plea, according to court documents.
Corda pleaded guilty in October to one count of distributing adulterated meat.
Cabrera's attorney, Federal Public Defender Brandon LeBlanc, did not reply immediately to a request for comment.
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