The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) sued a vendor and its owner for scamming over 80 prisons of $530,000 by selling diluted spices and food products.
The suit, filed November 1, 2019, was brought under the False Claims Act (FCA), also known as “Lincoln’s Law,” for violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA). The FDCA considers food to be adulterated if any substance is substituted, or any substance has been added or mixed or packed “to increase its bulk weight, or reduce its quality or strength, or make it appear better or of greater value than it is.”
BOP said part of its mission is to provide its 185,000 prisoners “healthy, nutritrionally-sound, and appetizing meals that meet the needs of the general population and those at nutritional risk. To purchase the food necessary to create the nearly 3.3 million meals per week, BOP utilizes a quarterly bid process that involves each prison posting a request for quotation (RFQ). The winning vendor provides the lowest bid.
Charlene Brach submitted bids as FlavorPros, LLC, and does business as Richards and Daniels, LLC. She underbid other vendors and was awarded contracts in South Carolina and across the country to provide spices for prisoner consumption. The RFQ and contract required the spices to be “[p]ure — no additives, extenders, foreign matter, or flow agents.”
“Brach stated she added up to 25% filler material to spices sold to BOP,” the complaint alleged.
She did not “rely on a formula for determining the amount of filler to use, but adds filler and flow agents based on her eyes and experience.” A May 4, 2017, invoice showed FlavorPros billed FCI Edgefield $2,856 for basil, black pepper, chili powder, ginger, oregano, garlic powder, thyme, and cinnamon.
The DOJ conducted testing and determined the cinnamon contained an average of 66% additives, the garlic powder averaged 64% additives, and the black pepper averaged additives of 57%. Dextrin, maltodextrin, starch, and flour were the key additives.
Based on those findings, DOJ suspended FlavorPros from conducting business with federal agencies. It lifted the suspension after an agreement was reached to assure food products were pure, but FlavorPros failed to deliver on 15 contracts and has not been awarded contracts since.
An end-around “to circumvent FlavorPros’ agreement with DOJ for heightened compliance requirements with providing food supplies to the BOP” was alleged to follow.
Enter Artisan Foods, LLC, a company registered to Brach’s son, Richard Brach. The DOJ alleged Artisan Foods delivered creamy Italian dressing to FMC Rochester that had a “best buy” date of October 2019. When the label was peeled back, it “was identified as a FlavorPros product with a ‘best buy’ date of July 2018” and a different lot number.
The BOP sought treble damages under the FCA and civil penalties under that law. Brach denied blame and said the dilutions were not her company’s fault. “I’m not guilty at all,” she said. See: United States v. FlavorPros, U.S.D.C (D. South Carolina), Case No. 8:19-cv-03118.
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Related legal case
United States v. FlavorPros
|Cite||U.S.D.C (D. South Carolina), Case No. 8:19-cv-03118|