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Supervisor Gets 3 Months for Tainted Beef Scheme

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A slaughterhouse foreman who swapped diseased cow heads for healthy ones to push tainted meat on the market was sentenced to three months in prison and two years probation on Friday.

Felix Sandoval Cabrera, who worked at the now-defunct Rancho Feeding Corp. in Petaluma, pleaded guilty in 2014 to conspiracy to distribute adulterated, misbranded and uninspected meat.

A federal investigation revealed slaughterhouse employees were ordered to slaughter cows showing signs of epithelioma, or "cancer eye," during USDA inspectors' lunch breaks and swap their heads with healthy ones to deceive inspectors.

The investigation led to a voluntary recall of 8.7 million pounds of beef in 2014.

During a sentencing hearing on Friday, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer handed down a more lenient sentence than the one he gave slaughterhouse owner Jesse Amaral last month.

U.S. Assistant Attorney Hartley West recommended a less harsh sentence based on Cabrera's lack of a criminal record and cooperation with prosecutors.

"He's lived a law-abiding life," federal public defender Ellen Leonida told the judge. "He was put in a horrible position. His boss threatened to fire him if he didn't commit this fraud."

Cabrera's boss, Amaral, was sentenced to one year in prison and one year in a residential reentry facility.

Another slaughterhouse employee, Eugene Corda, was sentenced to three years probation earlier this month for his role in the cow head swapping scheme.

Cabrera's attorney asked the judge to limit her client's sentence to probation only, but the judge stressed the importance of deterring future criminal acts that could taint the public's meat supply.

"The purpose of this sentence is really directed to people who find themselves in your situation where they're put under a great deal of pressure to do what their superiors tell them to do, and they have to be in a position where they say no, even if they place their job in jeopardy," Breyer said.

Cabrera worked at the Petaluma slaughterhouse for 30 years, his attorney told the judge.

In addition to his sentence, Cabrera must also pay a $1,000 fine within the next year.

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