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Sunday, June 9, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Midamar Exec Pleads Guilty to Halal Beef Scam

(CN) - The former operations manager of a Midwestern halal beef supplier pleaded guilty to creating false USDA inspection marks to deceive Muslim customers in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Phil Payne said in a plea agreement filed Tuesday that he and others at Midamar Corp. in Cedar Rapids, Iowa considered to create false certificates and other documents for shipments of beef bound for overseas markets.

These documents stated the shipments complied with Indonesian and Malaysian import requirements, and that they also complied with U.S. export requirements.

Halal is an Arabic word that means "permissible." In terms of food, it means food that is permissible according to Islamic law. For a meat to be certified "halal," it cannot be a forbidden cut -- such as meat from hindquarters -- or come from forbidden animals, such as pigs.

The method used to slaughter the animals providing the beef must also adhere to specific guidelines.

With his plea, Payne now faces up to a year in federal prison. He also agreed to pay a $20,000 fine.

Prosecutors charge that false USDA export documents, health certificates, and Halal export certificates were generated for at least 22 shipments of beef from Midamar's facilities between 2007 and 2009, and that this activity was carried out with the full knowledge and approval of the company's owners and managers.

The government maintains these and other steps were taken to make the beef eligible for import into countries that would otherwise not have accepted the beef shipments.

In his plea, said that as demand for Halal beef grew, Midamar supplemented its sales of purported Halal beef with kosher beef slaughtered by rabbis, without any participation or oversight by a Muslim cleric.

Midamar founder William Aossey Jr. pleaded not guilty to 19 charges stemming from the alleged scheme and is currently scheduled to go on trial on MArch 9.

Aossey's sons, Jalel and Yahya Nasser Aossey, have pleaded not guilty to a total of 92 federal charges, and are set to go on trial on February 17.

Midamar has defended its practices and accused the government of improperly trying to regulate halal standards that should be left to religion.

In a lengthy statement posted on the company's Website on December 18, 2014, and simply attributed to "Midamar,' the company says it " does not accept these allegations and is now seeking to understand what the government is basing these allegations on."

It goes on to say, "Midamar is faced with dealing with a government that does not fully understand the complexities and global sensitivities of the Halal market. The company is also faced with media that is quick to sensationalize these allegations at best and is often ignorant and hostile towards Halal producers and consumers. Most importantly, the company is getting inquiries and comments from Halal consumers that are understandably concerned that Midamar may be selling them meat that is not Halal. We ask that our customers reserve judgment until the company is able to develop a defense to these allegations.

"We assure you that we are working tirelessly to ensure that we investigate and understand these allegations and what these allegations are based on. We are one of a handful of Muslim owned Halal food companies in the USA that export abroad. Halal is the identity of the Midamar brand. It would be counterproductive and immoral on our part to knowingly sell Halal meat that is not Halal," the statement says.

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