CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – An Iowa businessman was found guilty Monday of exporting beef products to Malaysia and Indonesia that didn’t meet those countries’ strict religious-based slaughter standards.
A federal jury convicted Bill Aossey Jr. of 15 of 19 charges he faced, including conspiracy, making false statements on export certificates and wire fraud. He was acquitted of four counts of money laundering.
Aossey is the founder of the Midamar Corp., a Cedar Rapids-based company that is considered a pioneer in the sale of halal meat and food products. The 73-year-old is also a longtime leader in the city’s relatively large Muslim community.
Prosecutors say Aossey oversaw a scheme in which Midamar employees lied about the origin of their products so they could export them to Malaysia and Indonesia from 2007 to 2010. Both countries restrict imports to slaughterhouses that are certified as meeting their standards for halal, or slaughter practices based on Islamic law.
The products being shipped had come from a Minnesota slaughterhouse, PM Beef, that wasn’t approved by Malaysia or Indonesia to export beef products to their countries. Instead, Aossey directed employees to remove PM Beef labels from the packaging and replace them with ones that falsely showed that the products had come from J.F. O’Neill Packing Co. in Omaha, Nebraska, a slaughterhouse that did meet those countries’ standards.
Testifying in his own defence last week during the weeklong trial, Aossey admitted that he told employees to change the labels and that the company falsified export documents. But he said he didn’t believe those actions were crimes and repeatedly described them as minor administrative infractions. He denied committing wire fraud or money laundering.
A United States Department of Agriculture inspector testified that such labeling violations were serious and could result in countries blocking all beef imports from the U.S. The USDA uncovered the false labels during a 2010 inspection.
The company and Aossey’s two sons, Midamar directors Jalal and Yahya “Bill” Aossey, are awaiting trial. Each has pleaded not guilty to allegations that Midamar sold $4.9 million in beef to customers in Malaysia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and elsewhere that didn’t follow the halal practices promised in its labeling and advertising