A federal grand jury in Yakima, Washington, returned an indictment charging a Washington woman and her now-closed company with manufacturing and distributing tainted fruit juice and deceiving customers about the contaminated products.
The indictment alleges that Mary Ann Bliesner, 80, of Sunnyside, Washington, and her company, Valley Processing Inc. (VPI), conspired with others to distribute tainted and potentially unsafe apple and grape juice concentrate to customers in the United States and abroad. The indictment alleges that between October 2012 and June 2019, Bliesner’s juice products were made under insanitary conditions and contained potentially harmful levels of contaminants, such as arsenic.
The indictment further alleges that Bliesner (the former president and primary owner of VPI) and VPI lied to customers about the age and quality of their products. The indictment alleges that in some instances, the defendants sold juice products after storing them for years outside and exposed to the elements. According to the indictment, at least some of those products later were sold to customers who supplied the National School Lunch Program, which provides free or reduced-cost lunches to children. The indictment additionally alleges that Bliesner and VPI failed to register two facilities that they used to store fruit juice products and lied to inspectors with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the existence and use of those facilities.
In November 2020, the United States filed a civil complaint in federal court seeking to enjoin Bliesner and VPI from producing, storing or selling juice or juice products. In January 2021, Bliesner and VPI agreed to a consent injunction in which Bliesner and VPI promised that they were no longer processing, manufacturing, preparing, packing, holding or distributing any type of food, and would not do so in the future without first notifying and receiving approval from the FDA. VPI subsequently closed.
The criminal indictment returned today charges Bliesner with 12 felony counts of fraud, conspiracy, false statements, and violating the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The defendant is scheduled for her initial court appearance Oct. 5 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alex Ekstrom of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. If convicted, she faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations investigated the case. Trial Attorney James J. Hennelly and Senior Trial Attorney David Gunn of the Justice Department’s Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Dan Fruchter and Tyler H.L. Tornabene for the Eastern District of Washington are prosecuting the case.
For more information about the enforcement efforts of the Consumer Protection Branch, visit their website at http://www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch.
An indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.