Take 74-year old William B. Aossey, for example. He is the Halal food exporter convicted of switching out USDA establishment numbers to fulfill orders from facilities not approved for exports. His attorney says jail time could be tantamount to a life sentence. He also says sentencing should reflect Aossey’s lifetime of community service as a Peace Corp volunteer in Vietnam and Senegal, as Fulbright Scholar who worked after graduate school on egg production in Africa, and finally as a business leader in Cedar Rapids who supported charities and helped the city recover after the catastrophic 2008 flood.
In the several criminal cases involving food safety, most of the defendants have been well over 50. The elderly do not want to do time. Another example is 81-year old Austin “Jack” DeCoster. A judge sentenced DeCoster to just three months in a minimum security federal prison after he pleaded guilty to putting contaminated eggs on the market. Instead of serving the time, DeCoster filed a high profile appeal challenging the underpinnings of the law. He remains free on bail pending that appeal.
Age is far from a get-out-of-jail card, however. A California judge has told 77-year old Jesse J. Amaral Jr. to be prepared to surrender at his sentencing on Feb. 10 for selling cattle with diseased eyes after they’d been condemned by U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Federal prisons, it seems, are busting at the seams with elderly inmates. The segment of the prison population that is age 50 and older is the fastest growing. A sentencing reform advocate says federal prisons are beginning to look like nursing homes surrounded by razor wire and the $1 billion or more spent on health care by the Bureau of Prisons is more than is spent on the U.S. Marshals Service or the Drug Enforcement Administration.
His Chicago defense attorney Haytham Faraj says Aossey should receive a “non-custodial sentence” for his jury conviction for switching out USDA establishment numbers on beef sold overseas. Farad says Aossey’s past good deeds and integrity should be taken into account. Richard L. Murphy, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, opposes leniency for Aossey in the yet to be scheduled sentencing. Aossey has been in custody since he was convicted by a Northern Iowa jury in July 2015.
Aossey is the founder and former president of Iowa’s Midamar Corp. and its associated Islamic Services of America, both based in Cedar Rapids. He built the Northern Iowa community into a Halal food exporting center.
Faraj also argues that there were “no victims and no one was hurt.”
“Mr. Aossey engaged in a regulatory violation by directing employees to falsify establishment numbers,” Faraj said in a sentencing memorandum for variances and departures.
“The purchasers of the meat received exactly what they ordered. Meat purchases do not demand meat from a certain establishment. They place orders for a certain cut, quality, volume or amount of meat that is halal. They received the same cut, quality, volume or amount of halal meat but it was from PM Beef rather O’Neil Beef. No one became ill, no one was shorted product; no representation was ever made to a buyer. The misrepresentations were to USDA and the importing countries’ regulatory agencies.”
Farad says sentencing should take into consideration the several months Aossey has already spent in jail.
“The effect of this confinement on his mental health and general welfare has been significant. If he is released, Aossey will have more time to pay fines and any restitution and continue his charitable community work that he enjoys so much.” Farad says Aossey’s “incarceration will help no one.”
Murphy, the assistant U.S. attorney, in “resistance” to Faraj’s motion, says age is a factor that might be used to justify home confinement as a substitute for prison time, but there is no indication that Aossey is infirm. Murphy also noted Aossey’s “religious orientation did not prevent him from making innumerable false and misleading statements and stealing millions from them so that he could live a privileged lifestyle and be undeservedly regarded in the community as an upstanding person and and of God.”
In short, he says, there is no “senior citizen” benefit at sentencing.