FDA Says Two Arrested for Selling Tainted Cheese

Francisca Josefina Lopez, 40, and Jorge Alexis Ochoa Lopez, 34, both of Honduras, were just arrested by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) special agents and the Miami-Dade Police Department on a criminal complaint, charging them with introducing <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/practice_areas/food_poisoning">adulterated food products into interstate commerce, according to the FDA. The charges were brought under the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act (FDCA) and an anti-smuggling statute.

The FDA made the announcement on behalf of Jeffrey H. Sloman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Florida; David W. Bourne, Special Agent in Charge, FDA, Office of Criminal Investigation, Miami Field Office; and Anthony V. Mangione, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. ICE.

According to complaint allegations, Francisca Josefina Lopez and Jorge Alexis Ochoa Lopez imported four shipments of cheese from Nicaragua between December 2009 and March 2010 with a declared value in excess of $322,000. According to testing conducted by the FDA’s district laboratory in Atlanta, Georgia, three shipments were contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus, the fourth violated standards applicable to phosphatase, indicating the cheese was not pasteurized as declared on the relevant Customs import paperwork.

The FDCA states a food is deemed to be adulterated when, among other reasons, it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance, which may render it injurious to health. The Act prohibits causing the introduction or delivery for introduction into interstate commerce of an adulterated food. Felony convictions under the FDCA carry possible sentences of up to three years in prison and fines up to $250,000 per violation. Anti-smuggling statute violations carry possible sentences of up to five years in prison, fines of up to $250,000 per violation, and forfeiture of the smuggled goods.

According to the complaint, the defendants operated from a company known as The Lacteos Factory, at 1414 Northwest 23rd Street in Miami, Florida. All four shipments—totaling in excess of 170,000 pounds—were refused entry into the commerce of the U.S., and were subsequently ordered destroyed or re-exported.

On April 1, 2010, Customs & Border Protection (CBP) inspected a cargo container at the Port of Miami, which had been returned to the seaport from Lacteos, with documents to reflect the contents were the first refused shipment, being re-exported. CBP Inspectors discovered that the top layer of cartons on each pallet contained small bricks of cheese, as labeled, but that the bulk of the cargo in the lower tiers contained only buckets of wastewater; the majority of the 411 cartons of cheese were missing

A search warrant was then executed at the Lacteos Factory, which revealed that the three other shipments of the cheese product had been sold to over 30 customers, despite still being on hold. It was also determined that one customer conducted independent testing of the cheese, found it to be contaminated with S. aureus, and returned the product. Despite that, the cheese was repackaged and sold to other customers.

A Complaint is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty, the FDA pointed out.

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