Debbie L Smith, 60, of Ellington, waived her right to be indicted and pleaded guilty on Monday in Hartford federal court to a charge related to a Connecticut meat processing business’s falsification of numerous E. coli test results.
According to court documents and statements made in court, New England Meat Packing, LLC, located in Stafford Springs, is a federally inspected business engaged in the slaughtering, processing, selling and transporting of meat and meat food products for human consumption.
Pursuant to the US Dept of Agriculture’s (USDA) approved Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan for New England Meat Packing, the company is required to perform one generic E. coli carcass swab for every 300 animals slaughtered and to periodically collect ground beef samples for E. coli testing.
Memet Bequiri is the owner and general manager of New England Meat Packing, and Smith is/was the HACCP Coordinator/Quality Control Officer for the company.
Between November 3, 2016 and September 9, 2017, Smith prepared and submitted in the company’s Lab Sample Report binder, which the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) reviews, a total of 36 documents relating to 52 separate carcass swabs and ground beef samples on behalf of New England Meat Packing.
The 36 documents were each on the letterhead of a certified laboratory that tests food product samples to ensure safety and wholesomeness and signed by the laboratory director.
The documents stated that the required E. coli testing of samples submitted by New England Meat Packing had been conducted and completed, and that all 52 samples tested negative for E. coli.
In fact, none of the 52 carcass swabs and samples had been submitted or tested by the identified laboratory, or any other laboratory, and the 36 documents were fraudulently prepared using laboratory letterhead obtained from previous testing that New England Meat Packing had conducted with that laboratory.
The investigation revealed that Beqiri authorized the preparation and submission of the fabricated E. coli test results.
During an interview with a USDA’s FSIS investigator, Beqiri admitted that the documents were fraudulent, and that his business did not collect and submit the samples to the certified laboratory because he did not correlate the potential impact on food safety with his sampling program and wanted to create the appearance he was compliant with all USDA HACCP testing requirements.
There have been no known instances of illnesses reported by anyone who consumed the meat in any of the states where the meat was distributed.
Smith pleaded guilty to one count of making and using a false document, a charge that carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years.
Smith is released on bond pending sentencing, which is scheduled for December 10, 2019.
On August 20, 2019, Beqiri pleaded guilty to one count of making and using a false document and aiding and abetting. He awaits sentencing.
The investigation was conducted by the US Dept of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Office of Investigations, Enforcement and Audit. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant US Attorney Deborah Slater.
The plea was announced by John H. Durham, US Attorney for the District of Connecticut, and Administrator Carmen Rottenberg, US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.