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Crime Inquiry Launched Into Cheese Deaths

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has seized 20 boxes of records from the Jalisco cheese-processing plant in Artesia and announced today that it has launched a criminal investigation into whether the firm deliberately mixed unpasteurized milk into its products.

Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner told a news conference that the amount of raw milk coming into the plant averaged 10% higher between April 1 and June 11 than the capacity of the company’s pasteurizing machine.

“It raises the strong suspicion it (unpasteurized milk) was put in there deliberately,” Reiner said.

Bacteria found in some Mexican-style cheeses made by Jalisco Mexican Products Inc. has been linked to 39 deaths in California and scores of illnesses nationwide.

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Possible Conspiracy

The prosecutor said the investigation will focus on a possible conspiracy by owners and employees of Jalisco to sell unpasteurized cheese in violation of state dairy laws.

“Clearly, this activity was not the product of one person,” Reiner said.

He said the inquiry will look into whether to bring involuntary manslaughter charges against company officers and employees because of the deaths linked to the cheese. Investigators are also checking whether the company unlawfully sold adulterated milk products.

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Reiner mentioned that investigators could only find employee time cards for last week and said other cards for earlier periods were “conspicuous by their absence.” He said an attorney for Jalisco told investigators that company records were stolen from the attorney’s briefcase, but prosecutors found duplicates of those records.


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