An Illinois man was jailed without bond Thursday and could face up to 70 years in prison after being accused by federal prosecutors of inserting sewing needles into packaged meat at his local grocery store.
The Associated Press reports prosecutors filed the criminal complaint Wednesday against 68-year-old Ronald Avers of Belleville, Illinois. They allege that on seven different occasions, Avers, while shopping at the Belleville Shop ’n Save, inserted needles into packaged roasts, ground beef and pork chops. He then put them back on the shelf for other customers to purchase.
The Belleville News-Democrat reports that Avers was shocked when U.S. Magistrate Judge Donald G. Wilkerson told him Thursday he could face 10 years for each count if convicted. He is facing a total of seven tampering counts.
“Oh, God!” he responded, dropping his head.
SuperValu Inc., the Minnesota-based company which owns Shop ’n Save stores, said that none of the cases of alleged tampering resulted in serious injury.
The company began investigating the tampering early this year as customers started complaining of finding needles in the meat purchased from the store. One woman was reportedly stuck in the mouth by a needle inserted into a chuck roast.
After upgrading the store’s security system, company security officials began studying surveillance videos to catch the culprit.
Court documents indicate that the company’s investigators identified Avers as handling meat products that he never purchased while shopping in the store on his motorized scooter and carrying his oxygen tank.
The last incident reportedly occurred on July 12 when a needle was found in a package of pork chops.
The grocery store also alerted the FBI in early July that someone was tampering with their food. Store personnel called federal investigators Tuesday to tell them the man they suspected of the tampering was in the store aain.
Special Agent Daniel Cook said in an affidavit that investigators stopped Avers while he was leaving the store that day. After questioning him briefly, Avers consented to a vehicle search, Cook said. Agents allegedly found an open package of sewing needles in the console of his truck.
According to the affidavit, Avers initially said he used the needles to repair clothes while he was camping, but eventually acknowledged that he had used the needles for other things as well.
“‘Every now and then I would stick one in a hamburger,’” Cook quoted Avers as saying.
“‘Mostly hamburger, a couple of times I did it with a roast, maybe a pork chop every now and then,’” Cook continued to quote the man in the affidavit.
“Avers said during the interview two times he inserted sewing needles into packaged meat products, ‘just for the hell of it,’” Cook added, saying that Avers continued: “It was stupidity. I didn't want to hurt nobody.”
Apart from a few traffic violations, Avers has no criminal history. He has a detention hearing scheduled for Monday where bail may be set. In addition to the potential 70 years in prison, Avers could also be sentenced to pay a $250,000 fine for each count against him.
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