LV importer under scrutiny

Officials with a Las Vegas import company said Tuesday that they could not say whether products it supplied to pet food companies were linked to any of the recent pet deaths or illnesses because of contaminated wheat gluten.

The Chinese wheat gluten imported by ChemNutra all went to companies that make pet foods, Stephen Miller, chief executive officer of the Las Vegas company, told The Associated Press. The company’s offices are at 810 S. Durango Drive in Las Vegas. Miller declined to identify what companies ChemNutra supplied.

Devon Blaine, a California public relations spokeswoman for ChemNutra, said Tuesday evening that she did not know whether the materials the company had sent to pet food makers led to any deaths or illnesses of animals.

Nearly 100 brands of cat and dog foods made with the ingredient, since found to be chemically contaminated, have been recalled.

FDA testing of the wheat gluten has revealed it was contaminated with melamine, a chemical with several industrial uses, including the manufacture of plastic kitchenware.

A call to ChemNutra’s Las Vegas office was not returned, and a recording referred reporters to the company’s Web site.

On Tuesday evening, a locked mirrored door guarded the business, in a small office park on Durango Drive, just north of Charleston Boulevard. The door bears no sign announcing the company’s name or the nature of its business, only an address.

On its Web site, ChemNutra describes itself as an importer of nutritional and pharmaceutical chemicals from China to the United States. The company lists manufacturers of food, pet food and nutritional ingredients as its client base, and it focuses on importing amino acids, preservatives, antioxidants, nutritional minerals, proteins, flavor enhancers and sweeteners.

“We purchase our inventory from quality-assured manufacturers in China, with whom we have strong relationships over the past 12 years,” a statement on ChemNutra’s Web site read.

ChemNutra has an active business license in Las Vegas, but the company has not filed as a Nevada corporation.

A search of public records found that ChemNutra filed for incorporation in California on Aug. 1, 2005, with a Pasadena address and Miller as its agent for service of processes. The company also incorporated in Delaware on Oct. 27, 2003.

No one answered the door at Stephen Miller’s Summerlin home, at 10396 Noontide Ave., near Charleston and Hualapai Way. The two-story stucco home is assessed at more than $470,000 by the Clark County assessor’s office.

California listed ChemNutra’s incorporation status as “surrender,” which means the company “has voluntarily surrendered its right to transact business in the state of California.” Records called up online did not reveal ChemNutra’s incorporation status in Delaware.

The California secretary of state’s office was closed for the day before reporters could call the agency to inquire why a company would cede access to business opportunities in the state.

Last week, the FDA blocked wheat gluten imports from the Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. in Wangdien, China, and said it was the source of the contaminated product.

The agency refused to identify who had imported the ingredient, used as a protein source.

“Obviously, if this ingredient was responsible, it’s just very upsetting,” Miller told AP.

ChemNutra said it has recalled 873 tons of wheat gluten that it shipped to three pet food makers and a single distributor who supplies the pet food industry. The company said the recall applied only to wheat gluten from Xuzhou Anying, one of its three Chinese suppliers of the ingredient.

The importer shipped the product in 25-kilogram paper bags between Nov. 9 and March 8, when it learned the ingredient was suspected as the cause of the pet food problems. ChemNutra said it then quarantined its wheat gluten inventory.

Each bag of wheat gluten included content analysis and test results provided by Xuzhou Anying, ChemNutra said.

“The company is particularly troubled that the certificates of analysis provided by the above-named supplier did not report the presence of melamine,” ChemNutra said in a statement.

Blaine said she did not know how many people the company employs in Las Vegas.

ChemNutra’s Web site lists Stephen and Sally Miller as its principals.

Stephen Miller’s online biography said that he has more than 20 years’ experience in business management, entrepreneurship, finance, marketing and law.

He listed tenures as a vice president with Smith Barney and E.F. Hutton in his biography, and he added that he worked as an investment officer at Citibank. His biography cited degrees in law and business administration from Columbia University and said he is licensed to practice law in New York.

Sally Miller’s biography said that she has more than 12 years of experience as a quality-assurance manager and purchasing manager in China, where she worked for multinational companies.

She said she was responsible for purchasing “large quantities of nutritional and good ingredients in China for export worldwide.”

The biography said that Sally Miller has degrees in business administration and food engineering.

A Tuesday release on the company’s Web site said that ChemNutra’s principals learned on March 8 that the wheat gluten it had sold a pet food manufacturer was suspected in a nationwide rash of animal illnesses.

The release said ChemNutra immediately quarantined its entire inventory of wheat gluten and cooperated fully with an investigation by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

The company added that it will be conducting tests on wheat gluten from all of its suppliers, and on Monday, it sent recall notices to all four of its direct customers, the release said.

The Associated Press and Review-Journal writers John Edwards and Francis McCabe contributed to this report.

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