CEDAR RAPIDS — Midamar founder William Aossey Jr. testified Thursday that changing U.S. Department of Agriculture labels and documents, which are required under law, for halal beef products isn’t a criminal offense.
“It’s a minor labeling infraction, nothing criminal about it,” Aossey said more than once when asked by his attorney and the prosecutor.
Aossey admitted to changing the establishment number belonging to PM Beef in Windom, Minn., to another number belonging to J.F. O’Neill Packing Co. in Omaha, Neb., because PM wasn’t approved to export beef to Malaysia and Indonesia during the years 2007 to 2010.
Aossey, who was blunt and defiant at times as he directed his answers to the jurors, said he told employees to remove labels and change numbers, as they testified Wednesday, and also admitted to falsifying export documents. But he denied committing wire fraud or money laundering.
Aossey, 73, is charged with 19 counts relating to an alleged halal beef export scheme. He is charged with one count of conspiracy to make false statements, sell misbranded meat, and commit mail and wire fraud; seven counts of making or causing false statements to be made on export applications; seven counts of wire fraud; three counts of money laundering; and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The defense rested its case Thursday afternoon following Aossey’s testimony in U.S. District Court. Closing arguments will start Friday following jury instructions and the jury will likely start deliberations in the afternoon.
Aossey, who started Midamar in 1974, also told jurors he didn’t conspire with anyone, as charged in the indictment. He took full responsibility for changing the labels, but repeatedly denied the act was criminal. He said he wouldn’t have directed his employees to mislabel if he knew it was criminal.
On cross, Aossey admitted to knowing the establishment numbers identified a plant or supplier and understood it was important to the USDA. However, he did deny Malaysia considered it a serious violation. Aossey said the country would likely accept the “infraction” with an explanation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Murphy asked isn’t it true that Aossey went on the warehouse floor, even if he directed other supervisors on what to do with the labels, to “make sure it was done right, even if it was wrong?”
“Yes,” Aossey said.
Murphy then asked if Aossey was familiar with the Malaysia standards for Halal slaughters back in 2008 and Aossey said he was.
Murphy said a “stunning device” that cracks the skulls of the animals were not allowed during slaughter. But all of the PM Beef animals were shot with a 5-inch bolt through the head, which cracks the skull.
Aossey first said PM didn’t but then agreed that it wouldn’t be lawful halal meat.
In earlier testimony, a few defense witnesses testified they had known Aossey for many years and believed he was an “honest man” and a “law abiding citizen,” admitted they knew nothing about this case.
Mike O’Neill, retired president of J.F. O’Neill, said he knew Aossey used his company’s establishment number but it didn’t impact his business. Aossey assured him it was a “mistake” and “that’s good enough for me,” he said.
Before the prosecution wrapped up its case Thursday morning, IRS Special Agent Michael Hare testified about tracing the wire transfers made for payments on the 22 shipments alleged in the indictment, which were mislabeled. Hare was able to use the invoices taken from the Midamar files on the shipments, which were not altered. They correctly listed PM Beef at the supplier on those exports.