PETALUMA (KPIX 5) — The co-owner of a Petaluma slaughterhouse accused of processing bad beef pleaded guilty in an alleged scheme that led to a massive international beef recall.

Robert Singleton of the Rancho Feeding Corporation cut a deal with prosecutors and appeared in federal court Friday morning.

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“He knew that at the slaughterhouse that there was meat that was not going through complete inspection that was entering into the food supply,” said Pamela Davis, Singleton’s attorney.

Singleton was allegedly in charge of buying sick cows and distributing tainted meat, which led to the massive recall.

“He feels remorseful, he feels like he let his community down and he wanted to accept responsibility and he chose to cooperate with the government,” Davis said.

By pleading guilty and cooperating with the feds, Singleton could face off against co-owner Jesse Amaral, and two other plant managers at trial.

“It was unfortunate circumstances where people just made really bad decisions and he got involved and didn’t stop it,” Davis said.

According to the indictment, Amaral is accused of instructing the two managers to slaughter cows with eye cancer when USDA inspectors were on their lunch breaks. The managers allegedly told to swap the diseased cows’ heads with healthy ones and received kickbacks for going along with the scheme.

The feds say Rancho sold bad meat from nearly 200 cows. Nine million pounds of beef were affected in the recall, which included Hot Pockets and premium grass-fed beef.

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The on-site USDA inspectors have not been blamed for any of this.

“I actually can’t comment about what the USDA inspectors did or did not know. I don’t represent them…I think that it would be unusual that they would have no idea,” Davis said.

North Bay Rancher Bill Niman, used the plant to slaughter his custom meats. He also doesn’t think the workers could have fooled the feds so easily.

“It’s a small plant. There’s several inspectors there they should have known what was going on,” Niman told KPIX 5 on Monday.

Amaral also appeared at the courthouse on Friday. He faces up to five years in prison.

Singleton’s guilty plea will mean a lighter sentence if he continues to cooperate.

The trial against the other three defendants is expected to begin next month.


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