Archive for the ‘Agricultural Exports’ Category



That’s His Story and He’s Sticking to It

Posted by at 5:47 pm on July 11, 2015
Category: Agricultural ExportsCriminal Penalties

Midamar Halal Pizza via [Fair Use]Back in 2014, this blog reported here and here on the indictment of Midamar Corporation for exporting non-halal meat to Malaysia and Indonesia, both countries which forbid the importation of non-halal meat products. I expressed some concern that the theory of the case turned the Department of Justice into the Islamic Religious Police given the extent to which the indictment depended on allegations that the slaughterhouse used by Midamar failed to comply with halal requirements by, e.g., using non-Muslims to slaughter animals.

The case went to the jury last Friday and it appears from local press reports (here and here) that the theory of the indictment has been narrowed. The case seems to have shifted away from the claim that the exported meat was not halal but rather that Midamar obtained meat from a slaughterhouse that had not been approved by Malaysia or Indonesia and put the number of a slaughterhouse approved by the two countries on the the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service Form 9060-6 required to accompany the export. (A spokesman for Midamar told this blog that the warehouse used by Midamar was, in fact, complying with halal requirements.)

The defense’s response to this theory is that the mislabeling was not a criminal act. The defendant, William Aossey

testified Thursday that changing the labels and documents, which are required under law for halal beef products, isn’t a criminal offense.

“It’s a minor labeling infraction, nothing criminal about it,” Aossey said told jurors.

He admitted to changing the establishment number belonging to PM Beef in Windom, Minn., to another number belonging to J.F. O’Neill Packing Co. in Omaha, Neb., because PM wasn’t approved to export beef to Malaysia and Indonesia during the years 2007 to 2010.

At first, this seems to be pretty much game over for the defense, given the defendant’s apparent admission in open court that he faked the establishment numbers on the USDA Export Certificate. Of course, Aossey admitted changing the numbers because the evidence on that count appears to have been overwhelming. The strategy of the defense, as set forth in its motion to dismiss the indictment, is that the USDA has exclusive authority over meat misbranding and false statements on USDA export certificates. Moreover, the defense argued this exclusive jurisdiction extends to prevent prosecution for such acts under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 ,a/k/a the “Martha Stewart” law, which criminalizes false statements made to federal officers and agencies.

The trial judge was having none of this and denied Aossey’s motion to dismiss. So, the defense ploy here is to hope for jury nullification and, if that doesn’t work, set up grounds for an appeal.

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New Indictment Issued in Halal Export Case

Posted by at 11:34 pm on December 9, 2014
Category: Agricultural ExportsCriminal Penalties

Midamar Halal Pizza via [Fair Use]The Feds have stepped up their game in the Midamar prosecution, initially discussed here, by indicting more defendants and providing more detail in the new indictment as to the nature of the alleged activities. The initial indictment charged William Aossey Jr. with falsely stating on export certificates that meat had been slaughtered in a Halal-certified slaughterhouse.

The new indictment adds Mr. Aossey’s sons and Midamar itself. Based on comments we received from Midamar to our original post, it appeared that a central part of Midamar’s argument was that even if the meat was not slaughtered in Halal-certified slaughterhouses, the meat was still Halal meat as represented by the company.

The facts set forth in the new indictment seem to be directly aimed at this argument, going into the specific ways in which the slaughtered meat did not comport with the Halal standards that Midamar detailed on its own website. The non-Halal practices detailed in the indictment included: (a) the use of penetrative stun guns to kill animals, (b) the slaughter of cattle by slaughtermen that were not Muslim, and (c) the slaughter of cattle without the recitation of the requisite prayers. These non-Halal practices rendered false, according to the Government’s theory, the statements on export certificates that the meat complied with the requirements of the importing countries, all of which required that such meat be Halal.

In addition to my discomfort with the prosecutor’s delving so deeply into the religious matter of what is and isn’t Halal slaughter, it seems that there is little evidence that the defendants knew that the slaughterhouses were not always complying with the letter of Muslim religious practice. The only evidence in this regard mentioned in the indictment is the relabeling of meat by Midamar employees to indicate that the meat in question came from a slaughterhouse other than the one from which the meat actually came. Above and beyond that, you have to wonder why the U.S. government is expending such considerable resources to prosecute a case which ultimately deals with whether cows were slaughtered by Muslims while reciting specified ritual prayers.

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U.S. Indicts Exporter for Failing to Meet Halal Meat Standards

Posted by at 7:59 pm on October 28, 2014
Category: Agricultural ExportsCriminal Penalties

Midamar Halal Pizza via [Fair Use]Who knew that the Islamic Religious Police had an office at Main Justice? You might justifiably wonder that reading this indictment in which an Iowa man, William B. Aossey Jr., is accused of violating federal law by exporting meat from a slaughterhouse not certified as halal to Indonesia and Malaysia, both Muslim countries where the importation of non-Halal meat is forbidden by law. Aossey is the owner of Midamar Corporation, a leading producer and exporter of Halal meat and food products.

Actually, the prosecutors get to this odd result by a familiar route, namely accusing the defendant of making false statements to the federal government in connection with the export. We saw this in the warm chicken case which we reported on back in 2012. In order to encourage U.S. exports, the U.S. Department of Agriculture agrees to certify to foreign governments that agricultural products exported from the United States comply with the importing country’s requirements. As part of that process, the exporter fills out a USDA Food Safety Inspection Service Form 9060-6, which is an application for the required export certificate. In that application, just above the signature line, is the following sentence:

Under penalty of law, I certify that the product covered by this application for export meets the inspection requirements for the country of destination.

If the importing country requires that the animal be slaughtered by a Muslim in a particular manner while invoking the name of the deity and that has not happened, then the statement on the Form 9060-6 is false and a violation of 21 U.S.C. § 611(b)(5), which prohibits false statements in applications for export certificates. Violation of that provision is made criminal by 21 U.S.C. § 676.  The indictment alleges that the defendant’s company represented in the export certificate that the meat came from a Halal-certified slaughterhouse when in fact it came from another, non-Halal slaughterhouse.

It is not quite clear why the charge was under 21 U.S.C.  § 611(b)(5), which provides for a maximum jail term of three years, rather than under 18 U.S.C. § 1001, which penalizes false statements to federal agencies and provides for a maximum jail term of five years. Perhaps it was because the defendant was recently appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to the position of Vice Chair of the Iowa District Export Council, a fact oddly omitted from the indictment. I suppose that’s worth cutting the guy just a little slack.

UPDATE: We received the following communication from Midamar:

In your article “U.S. Indicts Exporter for Failing to Meet Halal Meat Standards” in your Export Law Blog you state “You might justifiably wonder that reading this indictment in which an Iowa man, William B. Aossey Jr., is accused of violating federal law by exporting non-Halal meat to Indonesia and Malaysia…” Midamar is a company that has built its brand on halal integrity and would never falsely label any product as Halal if it was not Halal. Bill Aossey is not accused of exporting non halal meat to SE Asian countries in violation of federal law. Please see Midamar Statement and also see: for some history on Bill Aossey and Midamar.

The indictment alleges that Aossey certified that meat came from a slaughterhouse that was Halal-certified when in fact, it is alleged, it came from another slaughterhouse that was not Halal-certified. The point being made by Midamar’s statement above appears to be that the meat was still Halal even if it came from a slaughterhouse that was not Halal-certified. We have slightly amended the sentence in question to read that Mr. Aossey is accused of “of violating federal law by exporting meat from a slaughterhouse not certified as halal to Indonesia and Malaysia.”

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ICE Nails Canadians for Exporting Cheese from United States

Posted by at 6:37 pm on October 30, 2012
Category: Agricultural ExportsCriminal PenaltiesICE

cheeseA reader sent me this press release from Immigration and Customs Enforcement:

One officer and a former officer with the Niagara Regional Police Service (NRP), and an associate are in custody in Canada Thursday following an investigation into a cheese smuggling scheme. …

The arrests were announced by James Spero, special agent in charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Buffalo, the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the NRP. …

Scott Heron, 39, Casey Langelaan, 48, and Bernie Pollino, 44, all of whom reside in Fort Erie, Ontario, have been charged for smuggling goods, evasion of duties and other related charges under Canadian laws. …

The network involved the purchasing of cases of cheese and other food items in the United States and transporting them into Canada without declaring the items or paying duty. Once the products arrived in the country, they were sorted and prepared for distribution to a variety of restaurants in southern Ontario.

Who knew that it was ICE’s job to help Canada put U.S. cheese makers out of business with punitive tariffs on American cheese?

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Dead Chickens By Sea: A Hard Warming Story

Posted by at 5:30 pm on May 8, 2012
Category: Agricultural Exports

Gulf Coast Cold StorageUsually criminal export defendants are in the dock for exports of night vision, stun guns, or high-tech chemical processing equipment. Today we have criminal defendants who were indicted for exporting insufficiently chilled chickens from Pascagoula, Mississippi to Russia, proving, I suppose, that even exporting chickens can be a dangerous business these days.

The indictment describes an alleged conspiracy by the three defendants, all employees at Gulf Coast Cold Storage, to remove dressed chicken carcasses from blast freezers before they had reached certain temperatures required by the trade agreement between the U.S. and Russia. In other instances, the defendants were alleged to have put chicken that reached higher than permissible temperatures back into the blast freezers.

Why, you must be asking, is the U.S. concerned about exports of warm chickens to Russia? Can they be weaponized into chicken wings of mass destruction? Will the warm chickens be served, pathogens and all, to Russian political prisoners? No, the warm chickens became criminal export violations through the wondrous intervention of the federal prosecutor’s jack-of-all-trades and catch-all statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1001, a/k/a the Martha Stewart law, which can transform almost any activity otherwise legal under U.S. law into a federal crime. Just as Martha Stewart went to jail for lying about perfectly legal activities, so the Pascagoula Three risk jail time for an allegedly untrue statement on an export certificate with respect to processing techniques that would not themselves have violated U.S. law.

When required by importing countries, as is the case with Russia for poultry exports, the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture will issue an export certificate attesting that the product complies with the importing country’s requirements. The exporter fills out an application for that certificate on FSIS Form 9060-6 which has a certification at the end that “the product covered by this application for export meets the inspection requirements for the country of destination.” This was the alleged false statement that served as the basis of the 18 U.S.C. § 1001 charge.

In order to sustain a conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 1001, the prosecution must demonstrate that the defendants knew that their statements were false. United States v. Yermian, 708 F.2d 365 (9th Cir. 1983). Here that means that the prosecution must show that three guys working in a blast freezer in Mississippi were familiar with Russian law on chicken processing. That seems to be a heavy burden, although the indictment suggests that one or more of the defendants told others to report false chicken temperatures, which I suppose will be argued as proof that they knew the temperature requirements of Russian law.

And the moral of the story? It’s this: there is no product so benign or inconsequential that someone can’t figure out how to send you to jail for exporting it.

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