Sunset Park meat wholesalers accused of beef fraud

SUNSET PARK — A newly-unsealed indictment reveals some major beef between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and A. Stein Meat Products, Inc., a Sunset Park-based processing and distribution business that’s accused of mislabeling meat products and selling them to consumers with inflated price tags.

Owners Howard Mora and Alan Buxbaum are both charged with wire fraud for the alleged scheme, which involved directing employees at their Sunset Park processing plant to re-brand USDA “Choice” beef products as higher quality “Prime” cuts using counterfeit stamps from the federal agency, according to the complaint.

Beef is evaluated by professional USDA graders, who assess the meat for subjective qualities like tenderness, juiciness and flavor. Prime beef is the top category, and comes from young, well-fed cows who produce lots of marbling, according to the USDA. Prime cuts are usually sold in restaurants and hotels. In fiscal year 2018, just over 7 percent of all beef evaluated by the agency received a “Prime” grade.

Choice beef, the second-highest USDA grade, has less marbling and is somewhat less tender than Prime. The vast majority of meat falls into the “Choice” category, with about 70 percent of all beef products receiving that grade from the USDA.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, more detailed information about where exactly consumers in New York City may have purchased the mislabeled meat products is not public.

A. Stein Meat Products was featured on a 2014 episode of CNBC’s “The Profit,” a reality show hosted by businessman Marcus Lemonis, CEO of the multibillion-dollar company Camping World.

Lemonis offered Mora and Buxbaum $1 million for a 50 percent ownership stake in A. Stein Meat Products, and later retracted the offer when he learned of “significant undisclosed financial problems,” in particular that the company only had enough money to remain in business for approximately two more weeks, according to court documents.

In a civil case filed in 2014, A Stein Meat Products, Inc. defaulted on all of its debt, citing the failed business deal.

The USDA Office of the Inspector General carried out the investigation in the meat fraud scheme, which concerns the time period from September 2011 to October 2014.

“The integrity of USDA’s food processing systems and the security of the nation’s food supply is of the utmost importance of the Office of the Inspector General, and we will continue to dedicate resources to the investigation of matters where it is called into question,” said USDA-OIG Special Agent-in-Charge Bethanne Dinkins.

Mora and Buxbaum each face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Caption: photo by Inigo De la Maza via Unsplash

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