Meat Packers Plead Guilty to Selling Uninspected Meat – Food Service Whistleblower Post
Two executives of the now defunct West Texas Provisions may soon be getting a taste of their own bad food. Literally. Both men pleaded guilty to defrauding the government by shipping adulterated and uninspected beef to 32 prisons in 18 states. Jeffrey Smith and Derrick Martinez pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge involving 775,000 lbs. of beef.
Selling adulterated products to the federal government and many states is not only a crime, it also violates the False Claims Act, a Civil War era anti-fraud statute that pays cash rewards to whistleblowers..
Executives Plead Guilty to Criminal Conspiracy
To prove a conspiracy, prosecutors had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- That the defendants (at least two people) made an agreement to defraud the government or one of its agencies;
- That the defendant knew that the purpose of the agreement was to defraud the government and joined in it willfully, that is, with the intent to defraud; and
- That one of the conspirators during the existence of the conspiracy knowingly committed at least one of the overt acts described in the indictment, in order to accomplish some object or purpose of the conspiracy.
In this case, Smith was the president of the company and Martinez was operations manager. Their company, West Texas Provisions, had a contract with the Bureau of Prisons to supply meat for inmate meals.
The government says the two men conspired to sell meat that was never inspected. The federal Meat Inspection Act makes it a crime to adulterate or misbrand meat sold for human consumption. It also requires meat to be processed under sanitary conditions. The federal inspection program ensures that meat processors comply with the law.
A specific provision of the law forbids whole cow hearts from being introduced into ground beef. [Hearts are often sold to dog food companies.]
As part of its license to do business, the company was allowed to operate during normal business hours Monday through Friday. If the company wanted to operate on nights or weekends, it should have notified the government so inspectors could be present.
Several employees reported that Smith and Martinez were breaking the meat processing laws by doing the following:
- keeping whole hearts offsite until inspectors left on Fridays, then bringing the product onsite for processing;
- performing the meat processing at night and on weekends, when inspectors do not typically work;
- making workers park away from the building while processing meat without inspection;
- keeping the lights off in the building while processing meat without inspection;
- bringing workers food in order to minimize in and out activity at the building while processing meat without inspection;
- hiding uninspected meat product in the freezer from inspectors; and
- distracting inspectors from noticing uninspected meat product in the freezer.
On September 24, 2019 the two men pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge. They each face 5 years in prison when sentenced later this year or early 2019.
Food Safety in Prisons
The U.S. government as well as the states spend billions of dollars on food each year. Much of that money is spent on feeding prisoners. Even more money is spent on feeding our fighting men and women and on funding for school lunch programs.
By processing meat when inspectors aren’t looking, no one knows how safe the meat actually is. We have seen many recent cases of chicken and hamburger meat being recalled because of e. coli and salmonella poisoning. If contaminated meat sometimes slips by government inspectors, imagine what happens when meat is processed without any inspectors present?
We know part of what happened with West Texas Provisions, they adulterated their beef with cow hearts, a product normally reserved for animal consumption.
In 2015 we reported about food service giant Aramark and their $145 million food service contract with the Michigan Department of Corrections. A whistleblower there claimed the company was altering expiration dates of food destined for state prisons and serving food infested with maggots. Governor Rick Snyder subsequently canceled the company’s contract.
Another vendor in Afghanistan was accused of upcharging the government for drinking water for our troops.
Selling adulterated food to the government, committing inspection violations, changing expiration dates or overcharging are all illegal.
Whistleblower Rewards for Food Service Whistleblowers
If the federal government is the buyer of food or if federal money is involved (examples would include school lunch programs), whistleblower rewards may be available to whistleblowers having inside (“original source”) information about illegal behavior and fraud.
Many states have similar reward programs.
Under the federal False Claims Act, the government can seek triple damages and high fines. Rewards are between 15% and 30% of whatever the government collects from the wrongdoers.
Food Service whistleblower cases are rare but we believe that is simply because most food service workers don’t know about the availability of rewards.
The federal whistleblower program also protects food service whistleblowers from retaliation. If you are fired or demoted for blowing the whistle, your employer must pay double any lost wages and attorneys fees. This is in addition to any reward for which you may be entitled.
Seeking a Food Service Whistleblower
The whistleblower lawyers at Mahany Law are actively seeking food service personnel with information about adulterated food products or deliberate violations of inspection programs. Our mission is to stop fraud and greed and help whistleblowers get the maximum rewards possible. We have prosecuted case in almost 40 states and have helped our whistleblower clients receive over $100 million in rewards.
To learn more, visit our government contractor fraud information page. Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online, by email or by phone at 202-800-9791.
All inquiries protected by the attorney – client privilege and kept strictly confidential. We handle cases nationwide. We never charge any fees unless we collect money on your behalf.