Archive for Friday, November 6, 2009

Shawnee couple indicted in food-poisoning cases

November 6, 2009

A Shawnee couple face federal charges related to incidents in August in which 48 people were sickened after eating at a Lenexa restaurant.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Thursday that Arnoldo Bazan, 30, and Yini De La Torre, 19, both of Shawnee, have been charged with mixing Methomyl, a poisonous substance, into salsa served to patrons at the Mi Ranchito restaurant in Lenexa.

Bazan and Torre, who are married, are charged with one count of conspiring to recklessly endanger other people by conspiring to tamper with a consumer product, and two counts of tampering with a consumer product, U.S. Attorney Lanny Welch said.

An indictment against the two alleges Bazazn and De La Torre devised a plan to use the pesticide to poison patrons of the restaurant in hopes that the owner of Mi Ranchito would be blamed and suffer financial harm. Bazan had been employed until June 27 at the Mi Ranchito in Olathe. De La Torre, was employed until Aug. 30 at the Mi Ranchito in Lenexa.

Bazan allegedly blamed the loss of his job and vehicle on the restaurant owner.

According to the federal authorities:

In July, an anonymous notice was sent to the Mi Ranchito Web site threatening harm if Bazan’s vehicle were not returned.

On Aug. 10, De La Torre — who has been identified in media reports as the niece of Mi Ranchito co-founder Rulber De La Torre — placed Methomyl into the salsa at the Mi Ranchito in Lenexa. On Aug. 11, 12 patrons suffered nausea, abdominal cramps, weakness, sweating and discomfort.

On Aug. 28, Bazan, through a third party, sent word to the Mi Ranchito owner that “the worst” was yet to come.

On Aug. 30, Yini De La Torre again placed Methomyl into salsa at the Mi Ranchito restaurant in Lenexa. On that day, 36 patrons immediately suffered nausea, abdominal cramps, weakness, sweating and chest discomfort. That same day, Yini De La Torre voluntarily told reporters the salsa was the cause of the problem after patrons were transported to area hospitals.

Nine days later, Bazan threatened physical harm to Yini De La Torre if she spoke with investigators, authorities said..

The food poisonings brought out investigators from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigation, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division, Lenexa Police Department, Johnson County Attorney’s Office, Kansas Department of Agriculture, Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Johnson County Health Department.

Bazan and Yini De La Torre face up to 10 years in federal prison without parole and a fine up to $250,000 on the conspiracy charges and up to 20 years without parole and a fine up to $250,000 on each tampering count.

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