The meat recall at Rancho Feeding Corp. was one of the biggest recalls in years after 9 million pounds made it to stores across the country. The U.S. Department of Agriculture called it “unfit for human food.”
That quote by the USDA made it out into the world and triggered a criminal investigation is one of staggering deception and cancerous cows, federal officials familiar with the investigation. And the plant where it all went down was also the setting for an illicit romance, according to documents obtained by CNN.
Federal investigators started surveillance on the California facility after getting a tip from a former Rancho employee. In January, federal marshals raided the Petaluma plant and seized the company’s records. Days later, the first recall notice went out, officials said.
Investigators now believe that Rancho was buying diseased dairy cows and processing them when government inspectors weren’t there; after the cows were killed, employees would hide the warning signs of cancer by trimming off diseased parts, using a fake stamp of approval or even replacing the heads of sick cows with ones from healthy animals. It’s unclear which employees were involved, officials said.
The account provides a fuller picture of what happened inside the plant than has been previously made public. In a letter a day after the first recall, the USDA told Rancho an investigation found that the facility “shipped adulterated and misbranded product” and hadn’t inspected cattle that “were likely affected with epithelioma of the eye (eye cancer).”
But that wasn’t the only misconduct going on at the plant. Turns out that one of the government inspectors — someone responsible for protecting consumers from bad meat — was having a romantic relationship with a plant foreman, according to a USDA e-mail obtained by CNN.
In the December e-mail, an assistant Rancho plant manager wrote to a USDA official to let him know about the relationship between inspector Lynnette Thompson and the plant foreman. The manager writes that the foreman admitted to seeing Thompson.
Then, things took a turn for the lascivious.
“He said he went to her trailer three different times and they were intimate,” according to the e-mail. “She also sent him a picture of her naked back side in a tanning salon to his cell phone.”
The assistant manager attached texts to the e-mail he said were from Thompson to the foreman.