YAKIMA – On Thursday, Vanessa R. Waldref, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that a federal grand jury returned an Indictment charging Mary Ann Bliesner, age 80, of Sunnyside, Washington, with twelve felony counts of fraud, conspiracy, false statements, and violating food safety laws in connection with her company, Valley Processing Inc. (VPI), which was also charged in the Indictment.
The Indictment alleges that between October 2012 and June 2019, Bliesner and VPI conspired with others to introduce unsafe, adulterated, and misbranded fruit juice products, including apple juice and grape juice concentrate, into interstate commerce by selling them to customers worldwide. The Indictment alleges that these adulterated juice products contained harmful substances, that they were produced under unsanitary and filthy conditions, and that they were unsafe and unfit for human consumption. The Indictment further alleges that Bliesner and VPI lied to customers about the age and quality of their products, which, in some cases, included grape juice concentrate that had been stored in unsafe conditions outside the VPI facility for years and exposed to the elements before being sold and shipped to customers, including customers producing grape juice for the National School Lunch Program, which provides free or reduced-cost lunches to more than 20 million children each school day.
Additionally, the Indictment 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 their existence and use. According to the Indictment, one of these facilities, located in Sunnyside, Washington, and known as the “Grape Road Facility” was used to store tens of thousands of gallons of grape juice concentrate for years in concrete vats that were not properly covered or cooled. According to the Indictment, when FDA investigators finally learned about the facility during a May 2018 inspection, the juice concentrate had a layer of mold and crust so thick and firm that a live rat was observed and photographed walking on top of it. The Indictment also alleges that testing of samples taken at the Grape Road Facility indicated that the product there was contaminated with bird and rodent feces, fur, insects, decaying remains of animals, mold, yeast, and other contaminants.
In November 2020, the United States filed a 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 not 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.
The charges against Bliesner carry a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, while the potential charges against VPI carry fines of $500,000 or more for each of the twelve counts charged.
Reporting public health and safety concerns supports a safe community for all. EPA’s online reporting form directs concerns to the appropriate regulatory authority: https://echo.epa.gov/report-environmental-violations. Concerns regarding the safety of FDA-regulated products such as food, beverages and medicines, can be reported at 1-888-463-6332. When reporting environmental, health and safety concerns, U.S. Attorney Waldref encourages Eastern Washington residents to also contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office dedicated Civil Rights and Environmental Protection phone line at (509) 835-6306 or email at [email protected]. Notifying the U.S. Attorney’s Office helps us protect the community from harmful violations of federal environmental, health & safety laws.
This case was investigated by the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Dan Fruchter and Tyler H.L. Tornabene and Trial Attorney James J. Hennelly of DOJ’s 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.
Case No: United States v. Bliesner, 1:22-cr-02097-SAB