The United States Attorney’s Office today filed six cases alleging violations of federal food safety laws and statutes designed to protect the domestic food supply. The cases contain allegations ranging from rodent-contaminated meat to Listeria-tainted cheese to the illegal importation of food products.
In the first case, the owner of Kagaya, a shabu shabu restaurant in the Little Tokyo section of Los Angeles, and a Japanese man were indicted on charges of conspiring to smuggle Japanese Kobe beef into the United States. All Japanese beef is prohibited from importation into the United States due to concerns about Mad Cow disease. Japanese-raised Kobe beef sells for more than $120 per pound in the United States. The two charged in this case are Masato Kagaya, 39, of Los Angeles, and Masaho Hirahara, 49, of Kanagawa, Japan. Both defendants are charged with conspiracy and two counts of smuggling. The indictment alleges that between the dates of February 22, 2001 and February 5, 2002 the defendants smuggled approximately $92,000 worth of Kobe beef into the United States.
In the second case, a Vernon meat distributing company and two managers were charged with violating the Federal Meat Inspection Act by allowing rodents to contaminate meat. On May 10, 2001, inspectors with the United States Department of Agriculture received an anonymous complaint regarding irregularities at Leonard Meat Company. Later that day, inspectors observed and detained approximately 13,000 pounds of meat and poultry products that were contaminated with rodent gnaw marks and feces. The inspection revealed evidence of dead and live rodents, rodent droppings and holes along walls, inside freezers, coolers and inside boxes of meat and poultry products. The defendants, Leonard Meat Company, company president Donald Leroy Lynch, 66, of Garden Grove, and warehouse manager Jagada Joe Lynch, 29, of Los Alamitos, are charged with the sale of adulterated meat.
The third case involves the distribution of queso fresco that was contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. Ariza Cheese Company, Inc. and a former production supervisor, Jamie Rubalcaba Sr., 42, of Bellflower, are charged with shipping the contaminated queso fresco to New York in 2002. Listeria is a potentially fatal human pathogen. As a result of the Listeria discovery in its product, Ariza voluntarily recalled 10,000 packages of queso fresco that had gone to approximately 250 stores in California and New York.
The three remaining cases all involve the illegal importation of food products that are banned because they pose of risk of carrying exotic Newcastle disease (END), an extremely contagious and nearly always fatal viral infection that affects all species of birds. END is probably one of the most infectious diseases of poultry in the world. END is so virulent that many birds die without showing any clinical signs. A death rate of almost 100 percent can occur in unvaccinated poultry flocks.
In 1971, a major outbreak occurred in commercial poultry flocks in Southern California. The disease threatened not only the California poultry industry but the entire domestic poultry and egg supply. A total of 1,341 infected flocks were identified, and nearly 12 million birds were destroyed as a result of the disease. The eradication efforts cost taxpayers $56 million ($228 million in 2002 dollars), severely disrupted the operations of many producers and substantially increased the prices of poultry and poultry products to consumers.
During the Fall of 2002, Southern and Central California private and commercial poultry flocks were again struck by an END outbreak. Through aggressive containment actions of the state of California and United States Departments of Agriculture, the extent of the outbreak was severely curtailed. Nevertheless, millions of dollars in response, containment, and flock destruction costs were incurred.
A total of seven defendants are charged in the three poultry smuggling cases. The defendants in the fourth case filed today are:
* Wha Soo Boon Corporation, a food import business located on Wholesale Street in Los Angeles;
* Soon Shin Kim, 49, of La Canada; and his wife,
* Jennifer Jung Kim, 45.
* In November 1999, Wha Soo Boon Corporation allegedly smuggled “kimchee balls” containing pork and poultry into the United States from South Korea by means of false shipping documents declaring the products to be “battered vegetables.” The Kims each are individually charged with then selling and transporting the prohibited products to local area markets in July 2000. The Kims had been previously warned by USDA inspectors that meat and poultry products from South Korea are prohibited from entry into the United States because they present a significant risk of infecting domestic meat and poultry with END and Vesicular Swine Disease.
* The defendants in the fifth case are:
* Minh’s Meat Company, Inc., a Santa Ana-based import company;
* Minh Dieu Huynh, 46, of Santa Ana; and his brother
* Quang Kim Huynh, 45, of Cerritos.
* The defendants are accused of smuggling prohibited poultry products, including chicken and duck feet, into the United States from Vietnam because Vietnamese poultry products present a high risk of carrying END. The defendants allegedly smuggled the prohibited poultry products into the United States in three instances in 2000, using sea cargo containers described in shipping documents as containing only seafood. The specific cartons containing the prohibited poultry products were variously labeled as “coconuts,” “longans” fruits, “jackfruit” and “Banana leaf.”
* In the final case filed today, Su Van Ho, 47 of Rosemead, who operates a South El Monte seafood importation business under the name Vincent Seafood, is charged with two counts for introducing prohibited poultry products from Vietnam into the United States. In August 2002, acting on an anonymous tip, USDA inspectors went to Vincent Seafood and observed a sea cargo container being delivered. Even though Ho said the container held only seafood, a subsequent inspection of the container revealed 45 cases of undeclared, prohibited duck feet.
* For more information on END, see:
* These cases are the result of investigations by the United States Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and three divisions of the United States Department of Agriculture, including the Office of the Inspector General, the Food Safety Inspection Service, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.