A Corona del Mar-based meat processing facility and slaughterhouse in Chino accused by the Justice
Department of inhumane handling of cattle has agreed to settle the case, it was
The settlements conclude a lawsuit initially brought forward by the Humane Society of the United States. The suit was sparked after a HSUS investigator videotaped alleged inhumane cattle handling and improper downer cattle inspection practices at the Chino facility of Westland Meat Co, which is based in Corona del Mar, and Hallmark Meat Packing Co. (Watch attached video from HSUS: Warning contains graphic images.) The Department of Justice later joined the lawsuit and brought additional claims that the defendants concealed their ineligibility to process beef because a convicted felon, Aaron “Arnie” Magidow, was connected with the facility’s operations.
The DOJ’s hook in the case was that the U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations that apply to suppliers of the National School Lunch Program prohibit the inhumane handling of cattle. The regulations also require “the proper inspection and disposition of downer cattle and require suppliers to identify convicted felons who are responsibly connected to the suppliers’ operations,” according to a released statement Wednesday from the DOJ.
“The contractors who supply beef and other meat products to schools and child-care facilities have a responsibility to provide our nation’s young people with products that come only from healthy and humanely handled animals,” said André Birotte Jr., the United States Attorney in Los Angeles. “This settlement holds accountable businesses that mistreated cows on a regular basis and routinely evaded a critically important USDA inspection procedure that allowed ‘downer cows’ to be processed into food.”
The National School Lunch Program, administered by the USDA, is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child-care institutions. The program provides low-cost or free lunches to children each school day.
All ground beef containing the defendants’ products was recalled as of Feb. 16, 2008, and the defendants no longer supply beef to the National School Lunch Program, according to today’s released statement.
According to USDA-OIG Western Region Special Agent in Charge Lori Chan, “The government’s joint investigation led to one of the largest civil settlements in OIG’s history.”
Under the settlements, Westland Meat Co. and its owner Steve Mendell, will pay $240,000, and Westland will enter into a consent judgment for $155.68 million. M&M Management, also based in Corona del Mar, and Cattleman’s Choice, based in Commerce, and the estate of Cattleman’s deceased owner, Arnie Magidow, and Magidow’s surviving spouse will pay a total of approximately $2.45 million. Magidow’s surviving spouse was named in the lawsuit as a successor in interest to Magidow and is not alleged to have engaged in any wrongdoing. In October 2012, defendants Donald R. Hallmark and Donald W. Hallmark settled allegations for $304,130, according to the statement.
As a result of the settlements, the Humane Society of the United States will receive approximately $600,000. The government alleges that under the whistle blower provisions of its False Claims Act -- under which HSUS filed the lawsuit -- the animal advocacy group is entitled to share in proceeds from the suit.
The case was handled by
the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California and the
Justice Department’s Civil Division, Commercial Litigation Branch, in
cooperation with the USDA Office of Inspector General.