ST. LOUIS • Two pet-food ingredient suppliers were sentenced Thursday on criminal misdemeanor charges to three years of probation and ordered to pay more than $7 million in restitution, fines and forfeitures for their role in supplying ingredients containing poultry feathers, heads, bones, feet or entrails to pet food manufacturers.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Nannette Baker ordered Wilbur-Ellis Feed LLC, a California company, to pay $4.55 million to Blue Buffalo, fined the company $1,000 and ordered a $964,442 forfeiture. The company pleaded guilty in April to one misdemeanor adulteration count and admitted substituting lower cost ingredients for premium, more expensive chicken and turkey meal in shipments from a plant in Rosser, Texas. On one or more occasions, the plea says, that lower cost product was hydrolyzed poultry feathers or hydrolyzed feather meal, which consists of ground-up feathers.
Diversified Ingredients, of Ballwin, was ordered to pay $1.5 million to the Blue Buffalo pet food company, fined $2,000 and agreed to forfeit $75,000. The company pleaded guilty in July to two misdemeanor counts of introduction of adulterated food. A co-owner, Collin McAtee, admitted in his May guilty plea that he removed the word “blend” from some documents and forged signatures of a Wilbur-Ellis employee on forms to conceal the source or contents of shipments.
Diversified’s lawyer, Gordon Ankney, repeatedly has denied “actual knowledge” by the company of misconduct by Wilbur-Ellis.
In court Thursday, Blue Buffalo unsuccessfully sought at least $74.5 million in restitution to reflect the cost of settling two civil cases claiming Blue Buffalo lied about its pet food ingredients, as well as associated legal costs.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Birmingham said prosecutors couldn’t prove Blue Buffalo lost that amount. He said the company profited on the sale of the adulterated food, albeit unwittingly. Lawyers also cited the potential for civil suits filed by Blue Buffalo against suppliers to resolve the issue.
The case also has netted the guilty plea in May of a former Texas employee who inspected mislabeled food, Gregory S. McKinney, and former Wilbur-Ellis employee Henry R. Rychlik, who admitted altering paperwork to cover up the substitution of ingredients.
Rychlik originally worked for American By-Products, which was sold to Wilbur-Ellis in 2011. American By-Products co-owner William Douglas Haning has pleaded not guilty to charges in the case.