National Roundup

Companies plead to conspiracy over halal exports

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) - Two related companies that distribute and certify halal food products pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiring to export misbranded beef products for sale in Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere.

Midamar Corp. and Islamic Services of America each entered guilty pleas in federal court in Cedar Rapids to one count of conspiracy to make false statements on export certificates, sell misbranded meat and commit wire fraud, among other offenses.

Under the plea agreement, each company must forfeit $600,000 in proceeds derived from the scheme. They could also face a term of probation and an additional fine at sentencing.

U.S. District Judge Linda Reade has rejected the companies' claims that the charges were regulatory violations that should have been handled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ruling that federal prosecutors didn't overstep their jurisdiction in bringing the case. However, despite the guilty pleas, the companies can appeal Reade's decision.

Midamar is a food distributor, while ISA certifies Midamar and other companies' food products as halal and is one of the few organizations approved to certify beef for import into Malaysia, Indonesia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. Both were founded and operated by the Aossey family in Cedar Rapids.

Midamar, a 40-year-old company that's considered a pioneer in halal foods, issued a statement last week saying that the plea agreements resolve all charges against the companies and executives. Midamar said it has now "taken full responsibility for wrongful conduct" that occurred from 2007 through 2012 and apologized for errors in judgment.

Midamar's founder, Bill Aossey Jr., was convicted in July of falsifying documents as part of a scheme to export beef to Malaysia and Indonesia that didn't meet those countries' strict standards of religious-based slaughter. He's in federal custody awaiting sentencing and could face several years in prison; he has asked for a new trial.

Aossey's sons, Midamar directors Jalel and Yahya "Bill" Aossey, are expected to plead guilty Friday under their own deals, court records show. Yahya Aossey entered the guilty plea Wednesday on behalf of Midamar, while Jalel Aossey pleaded guilty on behalf of Islamic Services of America.

According to the conspiracy count, Midamar made "fraudulent, deceptive, and misleading claims" about the source and nature of beef products, the way the cattle were slaughtered and the level of adherence to halal practices that were advertised.

Some Midamar products came from a Minnesota slaughterhouse that wasn't approved by Malaysia or Indonesia. Aossey directed employees to remove its establishment number from the packaging and replace it with labels that falsely showed the meat came from a certified Nebraska slaughterhouse, according to testimony.

Prosecutors allege Midamar told customers that its cattle were hand-slaughtered by specially trained Muslim slaughtermen who always recited prayer and advertised that it did not use penetrative captive bolt stunning, a process commonly used in meatpacking in which an animal is killed when a steel rod is shot into its brain.

But Midamar's primary supplier used bolt stunning and often didn't have Muslim slaughtermen present, the indictment alleges.

Man clocked at 112 mph was headed to court for past speeding

ROYALTON, Vt. (AP) - A driver clocked at 112 mph on an interstate in Vermont told police he was heading to traffic court to take care of a speeding ticket.

Trooper Rich Slusser says the 33-year-old man from West Hartford, Connecticut, was also weaving in and out of traffic in Royalton on Interstate 89 before he was pulled over Wednesday afternoon. The speed limit on the interstate is 65 mph.

The driver has been charged with excessive speeding and negligent operation.

Slusser says the man was given a citation ordering him to appear in Vermont Superior Court in White River Junction on Oct. 27.

Spared death, man loses appeal in child rape case

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A Louisiana man whose death sentence for child rape was overturned in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision has lost his bid for a new trial in the case.

Patrick Kennedy was spared from execution in 2008 but remained convicted in the 1998 rape of an 8-year-old. He is serving a life sentence.

In 2013, a federal judge in New Orleans agreed with defense lawyers who said there had been gender discrimination in the selection of grand jury leaders at the time Kennedy was indicted.

But the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed in a decision released Wednesday evening.

Kennedy has said he did not commit the crime. His appeals led to a 2008 Supreme Court ruling that death sentences for child rape were unconstitutional.

That 5-4 decision invalidated laws in five states and drew criticism at the time from Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal and then-Sen. Barack Obama, running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Kennedy was resentenced to life in prison in January 2009, at age 44. He has continued to fight his conviction, moving to federal courts after failing at the state level.

In October 2013, U.S. District Judge Helen Berrigan rejected numerous arguments by the defense. However, she agreed that there was sufficient evidence that when Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, judges selected people to serve as foremen or forewomen of a grand jury, women were too often passed over.

Berrigan's 2013 order, which overruled a state court decision, called for Kennedy's release or re-indictment within six months. However, she agreed to a delay in carrying out her order pending the appeal, citing the violent nature of the crime and the "significant incentive" Kennedy would have to flee to avoid a life sentence, if he were released pending a new trial.

Although the case involved the emotional issue of a child's rape and trial testimony had included gruesome evidence of the girl's injuries, the August hearing before a three-judge 5th Circuit panel centered on dry statistical and legal arguments as to whether the number of grand jury foremen and forewomen cited in defense arguments were drawn from a statistically significant number of grand jury panels.

In Wednesday's ruling rehashing the arguments, the 5th Circuit panel concluded that a state court had been correct in rejecting Kennedy's argument and that Berrigan erred in finding that Kennedy had established a case that discrimination had occurred.

Published: Fri, Sep 11, 2015


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