A federal magistrate in Kansas City, Mo., on Friday sentenced a Las Vegas couple to three years of probation for a crime related to the importation from China of a tainted pet food ingredient that is believed to have killed numerous dogs and cats around the country.
U.S. Magistrate John Maughmer also fined 43-year-old Sally Qing Miller and 57-year-old Stephen Miller $5,000 each. He fined their former Las Vegas-based import company, ChemNutra Inc., $25,000.
The magistrate said he would not order restitution in the misdemeanor criminal case, because a federal class action lawsuit in New Jersey calls for a $24 million settlement. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit were pet owners. Defendants included ChemNutra and pet food manufacturers.
ChemNutra’s insurance policy paid part of the settlement and the Millers paid the insurance policy deductibles, defense attorney Robert Becerra of Miami said.
Also, the Millers spent hundreds of thousands of dollars storing the tainted wheat gluten and then destroying it at the U.S. government’s direction, Becerra said.
ChemNutra imported more than 800 metric tons of tainted wheat gluten in at least 13 separate shipments for a combined value of $850,000 from China between November 2006 and February 2007. The Millers’ company then sold the material to pet food makers.
When it was discovered that the wheat gluten had been tainted with melamine, an industrial chemical added to make products appear to have greater nutritional value, pet food makers recalled more than 150 brands of dog and cat food nationally. Melamine is used to make plastics, cleaning products, glues, inks and fertilizers.
Becerra said the magistrate took into consideration guilty plea agreements and complaints by owners of dogs and cats.
“The Millers did not know that there was melamine or anything toxic in the wheat gluten that they imported from China,” Becerra said. “The Millers along with others were defrauded by these Chinese companies.”
“We were caught up in the fraud perpetrated by an unscrupulous Chinese manufacturer that decided it could make extra money by putting protein-enhanced chemicals into the products it was selling into the U.S.,” Stephen Miller in a statement.
Stephen Miller didn’t return a call for further comment from his new company, EOS Direct, a Las Vegas-based importer of nonvegetable or animal food products from China. The Millers have struggled because of the cloud of negative publicity over the pet food case, Becerra said.
Contact reporter John G. Edwards at email@example.com or 702-383-0420.