A former co-owner of a Petaluma slaughterhouse pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court to participating in what prosecutors say was a scheme to distribute meat taken from diseased cows afflicted with eye cancer.
Robert W. Singleton, 77, one of two former owners of Rancho Feeding Corp., also signed a cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors that requires his testimony against three co-defendants at a future trial.
“He decided it was the appropriate thing to do under the circumstances,” said his lawyer, Pamela Davis. “He felt remorseful for his conduct and any harm to the community he may have caused.”
In exchange, prosecutors will file a motion with U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer asking for a reduction in Singleton’s maximum three-year prison sentence.
However, the judge is not obligated to grant his request for leniency. Singleton also faces a $10,000 fine.
Along with his former partner, Jesse “Babe” Amaral Jr., and two Rancho employees, Singleton is accused of circumventing U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection procedures and processing the meat from diseased animals in violation of federal law.
An 11-count indictment returned last week named Amaral, 76, of Petaluma; Rancho foreman Felix Cabrera, 55, of Santa Rosa; and Eugene Corda, 65, of Petaluma, who was the facility’s main yard worker, responsible for receiving cattle and moving them for inspection and slaughter. Singleton was charged in a separate filing.
Amaral, Cabrera and Corda are charged with conspiracy to distribute 180 diseased or condemned cattle from January 2013 to January 2014. The indictment alleges mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud, which are punishable by 20 years in federal prison.
Cabrera pleaded not guilty to all charges Friday. Amaral and Corda pleaded not guilty Monday.
Prosecutors said the men slaughtered and sold meat from cows with “cancer eye,” meaning they had lumps or abnormalities around the eye. They bypassed USDA inspectors by cutting the heads off the diseased cows, disposing of them in a “gut bin” and placing heads from healthy cows next to the tainted carcasses.