SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A slaughterhouse employee admitted he swapped out diseased cow heads and carved "USDA Condemned" out of cow carcasses to push tainted meat onto the market.
Eugene D. Corda pleaded guilty on Friday to a federal charge of distributing adulterated meat.
Federal prosecutor also accused two owners and a foreman 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 foreman Felix Cabrera and employee 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.
Corda's attorney, Mark Coleman of Nuttall and Coleman in Fresno, did not reply to a request for comment Friday.
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