Lying about cheese leads to $750,000 fine and five days in jail

Lying to federal FDA investigators isn’t a good idea. Especially about redistributing cheese that had tested positive for Salmonella and Staph aureus. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Miguel Leal, president and owner of Mexican Cheese Producers was sentenced to 5 days in jail for covering up a nasty situation – washing and scraping cheese that had been returned by buyers.

Miguel Leal wanted to bring the cheese of his Mexican homeland to American consumers.Unknown-12

And on Friday, it cost him his freedom. A federal judge ordered Leal to serve five days behind bars for lying to FDA inspectors in 2007 about tainted, moldy, slimy Queso Cincho de Guerrero cheese that was “washed” and scraped and shipped across the U.S.

“I think he started out with a mistake,” U.S. District Judge James Zagel said, in issuing an unusually lenient sentence far below the 13-year maximum Leal had faced. “It turned out not to be a mistake but a crime.”

In all, more than 110,000 pounds of tainted Mexican cheese was shipped to his firm in 2007. A recall was issued in September 2007. Also Friday, Leal’s financial manager Cynthia Gutierrez, of Cicero, received five years probation, while Guadulupe Zurita, who owned the company that imported the cheese from Mexico, received one year probation. His brother Baldemar Zurita, who’s also charged with the scheme, is believed to be hiding in Mexico. Zagel also ordered Leal pay $750,000 in restitution, along with a year of probation.

Leal offered a public apology before his sentencing. “I deeply apologize and I ask for your mercy,” he said.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.