Confusion Over Lawyers Marks Beginning of First Halal Trial in Iowa
As the federal trial gets underway today in Cedar Falls, IA, the religious card is not really being played, but it is clearly in the deck. And one of the South’s more prominent agriculture and food attorneys is joining the defense team for William B. Aossey Jr.
In response to Aossey’s fourth motion to dismiss on the eve of the trial, government attorneys charged the defense with using “cut and paste” religious arguments without briefing them for the court, and they are concerned about “who’s on first” for the defense.
At a Monday afternoon hearing, however, Chief Judge Linda R. Reade let the defendant have the attorneys he wants but once again denied the motions to dismiss.
The defense team, now including Chicago criminal attorney Haytham Faraj and Birmingham commercial litigator Jason R. Klinowski, claim that the prosecution is attempting to “enforce the religion-based law of foreign Muslim counties.” However, they did not brief that argument before trial.
Klinowski, a former Chicago attorney himself, is editor of the blog, “The Fresh Facts,” which covers “legal and business insights” about the fresh produce industry. In January, he became counsel with Wallace, Jordan, Ratliff & Brandt LLC, based Birmingham, AL. He is an expert in USDA and FDA food regulation.
Klinowski joined the William B. Aossey Jr. defense team just before the trial after first representing the separately charged Midamar Corporation and Aossey’s son Yahya N. Aossey, who are both going to trial in September, and that has the government concerned about conflict.
“The sloppy course of representation runs the risk of creating greater problems down the road in the event of a conviction,” government attorneys said. “Disgruntled defendants frequently later complain their attorneys operated under a conflict of interest. Such potential for conflicts exists here.”
The group of defendants charged separately also includes Islamic Services of America (ISA), which is represented by attorney Charles D. Swift. The government says he filed a joint motion to represent that case on behalf of ISA and Midamar, but he does not represent Midamar.
Multiple representation of the defendants, the government says, is causing conflict and confusion.
The first of two criminal cases involving Halal food exports, United States v. William B. Aossey Jr., begins trial today with jury selection scheduled to get underway in U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids, IA.
The 73-year-old Cedar Rapids businessman will face all 19 federal counts charged last December 5 by a grand jury indictment.
Aossey is the founder of two organizations that formed the backbone of an international Halal food service business based in the north-central Iowa community — Midamar and ISA. Halal foods, particularly meats, are slaughtered and/or prepared in ways that meet specific requirements of the Muslim religion.
In the 19 counts, the grand jury charged Aossey with conspiring to make false statements and documents, sale of misbranded meat, and committing mail and wire fraud involving that business. Midamar, ISA, and Aossey’s two sons face similar sets of charges, but they are not scheduled for trial until September.
Trish Mehaffey, The Gazette – 7th July 2015
Defense contends former operations manager was behind Midamar halal meat scheme.
The prosecution, however, argues that Midamar founder William Aossey called ‘the shots’ of the operation
CEDAR RAPIDS — Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Murphy said in his opening statement Tuesday that William Aossey Jr. “chose to do things his own way,” and he called “the shots” in every part of Midamar Corp.
Aossey, 73, the founder of Midamar, is on trial in U.S. District Court for 19 counts relating to an alleged halal beef export scheme. He is charged with one count of conspiracy to make false statements, sell misbranded meat, and commit mail and wire fraud; seven counts of making or causing false statements to be made on export applications; seven counts of wire fraud; three counts of money laundering; and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Murphy said that from 2007 to 2010, Aossey devised a scheme to sell halal meat to Maylasia and Indonesia while thwarting those nations’ slaughtering requirements.
He told jurors they would hear from Midamar employees about how Aossey directed them to remove U.S. Department of Agriculture labels and other stamps placed on the products produced at its primary beef supplier, PM Beef in Windom, Minn., which was not approved to export to the two countries, to indicate the products were produced by J.F. O’Neill Packing Co. in Omaha, Neb., an approved halal supplier. Halal meat must be cut and produced according to Islamic law.
Murphy said the scheme went on until Midamar was reported to the USDA. An investigation found at least 22 shipments had falsified labels and stamps, which were intended to mislead USDA inspectors.
“Mr. Aossey admitted knowing what was being done and said it was his responsibility,” Murphy said.
Haytham Faraj, Aossey’s lawyer, admitted in his opening statement that “some wrong numbers” were on export certificates.
Phillip Payne, former operations manager, negotiated the slaughters and the contracts, Faraj said. But Payne was “lazy” and came up with a plan to substitute establishment numbers, which identified where meat is supplied.
Faraj said witnesses will testify that Payne was told not to do this but continued to tell employees to change the numbers of PM Beef to look like they came from O’Neill.
Faraj said Payne received a “sweetheart” deal from the prosecution. He asked the jurors to carefully listen to Payne’s testimony and consider his “motivation.”
Payne, 50, of Ryan, pleaded guilty earlier this year to misdemeanor conspiracy to make and deliver false certificates and writings. He faces a year in federal prison.
Tamara Dey, a USDA inspector, testified about export certificates and establishment numbers, which are assigned to identify a specific plant. She testified that it wasn’t lawful for Midamar to change establishment numbers and USDA labels.
Former Midamar employees testify they were told by Aossey to mislabel products
The trial, which started Tuesday, is expected to last a week
By Trish Mehaffey, The Gazette – 8 July 2015
CEDAR RAPIDS — A U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector testified Wednesday that William Aossey, Jr. admitted to changing labels and stamps on Halal beef products in order to ship them to Malaysia and Indonesia.
Jeff Griess, said Aossey knew the establishment number belonging to PM Beef in Windom, Minn., was changed on products to reflect a number belonging to J.F. O’Neill Packing Co. in Omaha, Neb., because O’Neill was only one of two or three beef suppliers who were approved to export Halal beef to Malaysia and Indonesia during 2007-2010.
Griess also said Aossey signed a written statement saying he took full responsibility and admitted to telling employees to change the numbers and labels. Griess performed the Midamar inspection and found the illegal activity in February 2010.
Aossey, 73, the founder of Midamar, is charged with 19 counts relating to an alleged halal beef export scheme. He is charged with one count of conspiracy to make false statements, sell misbranded meat, and commit mail and wire fraud; seven counts of making or causing false statements to be made on export applications; seven counts of wire fraud; three counts of money laundering; and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The prosecution continues its case 9 a.m. Thursday in U.S. District Court. The trial, which started Tuesday, is expected to last a week.
Griess said the misbranding and mislabeling had been going on for about three years after he looked at Midamar’s shipping records. Midamar, or any other company, isn’t allowed to change establishment numbers, he said. Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Murphy asked what kind of impact this mislabeling could have on the export business.
Griess said it could financially impact producers and processors because the foreign countries who have requirements could refuse to take U.S. beef if they found out this was happening.
In other testimony, two employees from PM and O’Neill testified about the establishment numbers on their products and former Midamar employees testified that the scheme to skirt strict slaughtering requirements was common knowledge in the warehouse.
Lisa Hernandez, vice president of operations for PM Beef, testified the company puts its establishment number on all the Cryovac or vacuum sealed packaging and on the box labels.
“Nothing goes out the door without the establishment number,” Hernandez said.
She added that PM would never give Midamar permission to use another establishment number on their products.
Debra Bailey, officer manager with J.F. O’Neill, testified the company was authorized to export to the two countries in 2007-2010 but had only supplied meat to Midamar up to July 11, 2007 and then not again until 2010.
Bailey also said it would be “illegal” if O’Neill let another company use its establishment number.
Debra Lapsey, former Midamar employee who prepared documentation for overseas shipments, said she was asked to change the numbers by a salesperson and William Aossey. She also was asked to inflate the price on a product that went bad so Midamar could collect more insurance money.
Lapsey testified that Aossey yelled and screamed at her when she refused. She was eventually fired.
Virginia Birdnow, a warehouse supervisor, said she directed employees to change establishment numbers and had employees use acetone and paper towels to wipe off numbers on Cryovac packaging. They would also remove box labels from PM and replace them with Midamar labels.
Birdnow said Aossey came into the warehouse to ensure they were removing the labels or stamps correctly.
On cross examination, Birdnow admitted she was fired and filed a unemployment claim but lost. She admitted she was mad about being denied but “got over it.”
Darrin O’Brien, who formerly worked in accounts management and sales at Midamar, said the export certificates for the Halal products were also altered to reflect they came from O’Neill, instead of PM. He added the invoices kept at Midamar showed the actual supplier to be PM.