Two Texas meatpacking executives pleaded guilty Tuesday to selling $1 million in altered ground beef to federal prisons.
The officials of West Texas Provisions Inc. in Amarillo tampered with the beef by including cow hearts and labeling it “ground beef,” according to federal officials.
West Texas Provisions President Jeffrey Neal Smith, 49, and operations manager Derrick Martinez, 43, pleaded guilty Tuesday afternoon to conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Martinez and Smith entered their plea in an Amarillo federal courtroom.
They each face a maximum of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
Officials with the the Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General and Department of Justice Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation.
The defendants admitted to selling more than 775,000 pounds of uninspected, misbranded or altered meat to 32 prisons in 18 states, for which federal prison officials paid $1,011,166.72, according to federal court documents.
Federal agents said Martinez and Smith often kept the lights off inside their facility while processing uninspected meat, hid uninspected meat in the freezer while inspectors were in the building and distracted inspectors from looking at the product.
The company processed whole cow hearts which are not permitted in ground beef products and labeled it “ground beef,” according to court documents. Smith and Martinez kept the whole hearts offsite until inspectors left the premises, then processed the hearts on nights and weekends, when inspectors weren’t working, federal agents said in court documents.
Martinez and Smith admitted in their plea agreement that West Texas Provisions marketed its products as USDA inspected when they were processed without inspections.