Feds resurrect environmental crimes case against House of Raeford Farms

The Charlotte ObserverJuly 10, 2012 

Federal authorities are reviving an environmental crimes case against House of Raeford Farms, a North Carolina-based poultry processor accused of flushing turkey remains into a municipal sewage treatment plant.

Earlier this year, a federal judge dismissed the case because prosecutors failed to bring it to a speedy trial. But the judge allowed prosecutors to resurrect the case.

In a new indictment filed on June 26, a grand jury again charged that the North Carolina-based company sent untreated wastewater – contaminated with blood and body parts from slaughtered turkeys – to a municipal treatment plant in Raeford, N.C., on 14 occasions from 2005 to August 2006.

The indictment also names plant manager Gregory Steenblock.

Municipal plants are designed to treat household waste, not raw industrial waste. For that reason, most industries are required to pretreat their wastewater before piping it to a municipal plant for final treatment.

House of Raeford said in a statement that any problems were unintentional and were fixed years ago.

“The government has never prosecuted another case like it, and it should not prosecute this one again, either,” the company said. “There were no crimes here.”

Whatever went into the sewer was effectively treated by the city’s sewage treatment plant, House of Raeford said.

The company also said that it solved the problems by completing a $1.4 million upgrade to its pretreatment facility in September 2006.

House of Raeford appealed the previous case as far as the U.S. Supreme Court, but the high court denied the company’s request.

The company had argued in its appeals that it already paid nearly $1 million in fines to the city of Raeford and shouldn’t be punished twice.

The case could head to trial as soon as Aug. 13.

If convicted, the company faces a maximum fine of $500,000 per count. Steenblock faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine per count.

But House of Raeford said it expects the courts to support its position.

“It is time to move on,” the company said.

House of Raeford is one of the nation’s leading chicken and turkey producers.

A 2008 Observer investigation found the company had masked the extent of workplace injuries. Employees said the company had ignored, intimidated and fired workers who were hurt on the job.

House of Raeford officials said they followed the law.

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