Misgrading Agricultural Commodities
Before a grower of agricultural commodities can begin selling its products, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) must first give the specific items a grade, which indicates their level of quality. Grading involves a rigorous review process by skilled professionals who are required to follow official grade standards. While most graders are careful to follow exact guidelines, mistakes can still be made, which can lead to investigations of fraud and the misgrading commodities. To learn more about what these charges entail, please contact an experienced Miami white collar crime attorney who is well-versed in both state and federal commodities law.
What Qualifies as an Agricultural Commodity?
In Florida, agricultural commodities are strictly defined as all agricultural, aquacultural, horticultural, and vegetable products that are produced in the state. This includes products in their natural state, as well as those processed by a producer for the purpose of marketing the product, including:
- Livestock and livestock products;
- Poultry and poultry products;
- Timber and timber products;
- Fish and seafood; and
- All products of Florida farms, waters, and forests.
All of these products must be inspected, and graded, which requires an analysis of the product’s quality, size, condition, maturity, and shape. Afterwards, the products must be properly labeled before they can be sold.
Grading commodities requires compliance with a series of strict guidelines. Unfortunately, mistakes can be made, resulting in a lower or higher grade than is appropriate. In some cases, these mistakes are attributed to fraud on the part of wholesalers who receive the goods from farmers across the country. For example, some of the most common charges of misgrading commodities involve claims that an inspector accepted cash payments from the owners and employees of a produce wholesale firm in exchange for agreeing to downgrade produce. Growers, who agree to provide produce of a certain grade, must then revisit their contracts and accept a lower payment. For example, a grower may agree to provide a wholesaler with Grade A beef. However, if an inspector, upon receipt of the product, states that it only reaches the level of Grade B, the grower would be forced to accept lower payment for the items. The wholesaler, on the other hand, would be able to save a substantial amount of money per load.
Unfortunately, innocent employees and inspectors are often caught up in federal and state investigations of commodities fraud, which can have devastating consequences, including charges of bribery. Bribery charges are aggressively prosecuted and can result in up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count. Because so much is at stake for those accused of misgrading commodities, it is critical for these individuals to speak with an attorney who may be able to help get their charges reduced or even dismissed.
Contact our White Collar Crime Legal Team Today
Please contact Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A., Criminal Defense Attorneys by calling 305-670-9919 if you are being investigated for or have been charged with misgrading commodities or another commodities-related offense, so a dedicated white collar crime attorney can get started on evaluating your case. We will help you throughout each step of the process.