PITTSBURGH – A pair of cheese companies and one executive entered guilty pleas in federal court on Friday in response to charges of introducing “adulterated and misbranded cheese products” into interstate commerce.
According to David J. Hickton, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Universal Cheese & Drying, Inc. and International Packing, LLC both pled guilty to one count of conspiring to introduce misbranded and adulterated cheese products into interstate commerce and to commit money laundering before Judge Mark R. Hornak of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
Both companies also agreed to pay a $500,000 fine to the United States.
Castle Cheese Company executive Michelle Myrter, 44, of Harmony, also pled guilty as a “responsible corporate officer” to one misdemeanor count of aiding and abetting the introduction of adulterated and misbranded cheese products into interstate commerce, in violation of provisions of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
Myrter was released on a personal recognizance bond, pending sentencing.
Hickton said, “The Department of Justice prosecutes people and companies who introduce adulterated or misbranded food into interstate commerce. In this case, the fraud was perpetrated on consumers who purchased parmesan and romano cheeses that were inferior to what they believed they were buying.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the corporate defendants packaged and sold cheese under various labels at the Castle Cheese facility in Slippery Rock, which was in turn distributed to customers throughout the United States.
Though the corporate defendants were aware of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulations and standards of identity for parmesan and romano cheese products and knew their products did not conform to those standards, the U.S. Attorney’s Office claimed the defendants marketed their products as containing 100 percent real cheese, regardless.
Further, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said the corporate defendants were aware their products were misbranded and mislabeled, knew the cheese products contained altered ingredients and used money from the sale of the adulterated products to continue their business operations in Slippery Rock.
According to authorities, the altered products were sold under several brand names, whose trademark owners were unaware of the fraud. Per the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the products in question are no longer available for sale and were not a threat to consumers’ health or safety at any time.
In addition to the fine of $500,000 for both companies, the law calls for Myrter to face a total sentence of one year in prison, a fine of $100,000, or both. Pursuant to federal sentencing guidelines, her sentence will be based on the severity of the offense and her prior criminal history, if any.
Hornak will schedule sentencing for a later date.
The FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations and the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation conducted the investigations which led to the prosecutions of Universal Cheese & Drying, International Packing and Myrter.
The plaintiff is represented by Tonya Sulia Goodman of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania, in Pittsburgh.
The defendant is represented by Stephen S. Stallings, also in Pittsburgh.
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cr-00219
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org