1 April 2005 – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – A British national who currently resides in the Los Angeles area was sentenced today to five years in federal prison after admitting that he sent several adulterated food items – including baby formula contaminated with boric acid – to the Ralphs grocery chain and demanded $180,000 to prevent poisoned food from being placed on store shelves.
David Ian Dickinson, a 43-year-old Venice resident, was sentenced this morning in Los Angeles by United States District Judge Dean D. Pregerson. Dickinson pleaded guilty on November 30, 2004 to charges of extortion and tampering with consumer products.
During the sentencing hearing, Judge Pregerson found that Dickinson’s scheme was sophisticated and that he used baby food to invoke a greater sense of panic. Agreeing with comments made by the defendant, Judge Pregerson said Dickinson had “committed a villainous act.” The court went on to state that the extortion scheme was a “close cousin to terrorism . . . you threatened to tamper with the food supply.”
According to court documents, on February 25, 2004 Dickinson sent four adulterated food items to the corporate headquarters of Ralphs. The package contained a note stating: “This is a blackmail demand pass to persons able to deal with such matter. Keep out.” In addition to the poisoned baby formula, the package contained a jar of horseradish contaminated with boric acid, a jar of baby food with glass shards and an infant juice drink laced with hydraulic fluid.
While Dickinson threatened to place contaminated and dangerous food products on store shelves, there is no evidence that he actually followed through on the threat. In the letter to Ralphs, Dickinson demanded money and stated that failure to follow the demands would result in a wide range of tampered foods being placed into the food supply.
On March 1, Dickinson sent a second letter to Ralphs headquarters. That letter demanded that $180,000 be placed into an account and that Ralphs distribute 9,000 debit cards that could be used to access the account. The extortionist demanded that the debit cards be distributed at Ralphs stores in Santa Monica, San Diego and San Ramon. The letter further demanded that an advertisement for a “German tuba” be placed in the March 25 issue of the Los Angeles “Recycler,” and instructed that the PIN number to access the $180,000 be listed as the tuba’s model number.
Ralphs personnel subsequently placed the ad in the “Recycler” and established an account in which they deposited $180,000. Pursuant to the demands made in the letter, Ralphs began distributing the 9,000 debit cards on the afternoon of March 26. A surveillance team at the Ralphs in Santa Monica noticed a man on a bicycle who resembled the person seen on a surveillance video taken at a Venice Post Office when the package containing the contaminated food items was sent to Ralphs. The man made a small purchase in the Ralphs, and he received a debit card.
On May 5, special agents with the FBI executed a search warrant at Dickinson’s residence. At that time, they found a yellow jacket and other clothing items he was wearing when he mailed the tainted food products to Ralphs. Investigators also found drafts of the extortion letter on his computer. At that time, Dickinson said he attempted to extort Ralphs to obtain money to pay for his five-month-old son’s college education.
This case is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations, which received assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
CONTACT: Assistant United States Attorney Beverly Reid O’Connell