Two meatpacking plant executives pleaded guilty Tuesday to their role in a scheme to sell 800,000 pounds of adulterated meat to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, announced U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Erin Nealy Cox.
According to plea papers, the two men admitted to selling uninspected, misbranded, or adulterated meat–including whole cow hearts labeled as “ground beef”–to 32 prisons in 18 states.
West Texas Provisions, Inc. president Jeffery Neal Smith, 49, and operations manager Derrick Martinez, 43, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States. The Bureau of Prisons paid about $1 million for the bad meat.
The violations allegedly happened between October 2016 and August 2017.
The details of the fraud make for disturbing reading. In violation of the Federal Meat Inspection Act, West Texas Provisions marketed its products as USDA inspected when, in fact, it was processed without an inspection, defendants admitted, according to the Justice Department.
Plea papers indicate the company processed whole cow hearts–not permitted in ground beef products–and labeled it “ground beef.” They kept the whole hearts offsite until inspectors left the premises, “then processed the hearts on nights and weekends, when inspectors weren’t working.”
They also often kept the lights off inside the facility while processing uninspected meat, hid uninspected meat in the freezer while inspectors were in the building, and distracted inspectors from looking at the product, they admitted.
Officials with the Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General and Department of Justice Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation.
The issue of tainted or uninspected food being sold to prisons has been raised in several states. In Arizona, some of the women incarcerated at Arizona’s Perryville prison said they saw the bright red letters spelling out “not for human consumption” on the sides of cardboard boxes containing chicken, in a story reported in the Phoenix New Times.
In Oregon, earlier this year a federal judge dismissed a class-action lawsuit by current and former inmates claiming the Oregon prison system served them spoiled food.
The Oregonian/Oregon Live reported that the 2017 lawsuit was thrown out by a U.S. district judge who found there was no evidence of sustained “adverse health impacts.”
Inmates at four Oregon prisons were fed “green meat and moldy, spoiled food” and bait fish marked “not for human consumption,” according to the class-action lawsuit. The lawsuit says the conditions violated the inmates’ Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment, reported the Statesman Journal.