Former president of Washington state manufacturer charged with selling tainted fruit juice

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A grand jury indicted an 80-year-old Washington woman and her since-shuttered company Thursday for allegedly making and selling rotten and tainted fruit juice products.

The woman, Mary Ann Bliesner, and her company, Valley Processing Inc. (VPI), allegedly conspired to distribute "tainted and potentially unsafe" juice concentrate products, according to a Department of Justice (DOJ) press release. 

She now faces 12 felony counts of fraud, conspiracy, false statements and violating the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

The juice products contained "potentially harmful levels" of contaminants like arsenic and were made under "insanitary conditions," the DOJ alleged in its release.

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The Department of Justice building Aug. 18, 2022 in Washington, D.C.  (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Bliesner and her company allegedly sold juice products in some instances that had been stored outside for years, some of which the indictment said were later sold to customers that supplied the National School Lunch Program, according to the DOJ release. The National School Lunch Program provides low-cost or free lunches to schoolchildren.

The indictment also accused Bliesner and VPI of lying to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors about two facilities that the company used to store juice products but failed to register, according to the DOJ.

 Samples taken at one of those facilities indicated juice product had been contaminated with animal feces, insects, mold, yeast and other contaminants, the U.S Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Washington alleged in another press release.

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Thursday's charges come after the federal government filed a civil complaint in November 2020 to stop Bliesner and her company from producing, storing or selling juice products. 

An American flag waves outside the U.S. Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C., Dec. 2, 2020.  (REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo / Reuters)

In the same month, attorney Lillian Hardy said VPI, which she was representing, had stopped operating and liquidated its assets, according to The Associated Press. The allegations made in the federal lawsuit against Bliesner and her company were incorrect and lacked context, Hardy reportedly argued at the time.

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Bliesner and VPI agreed in early 2021 to a consent injunction requested by the government saying they had stopped making, holding or distributing any food types and would not do so in the future without FDA approval, according to the DOJ's release.

Bliesner faces up to 20 years of jail time if convicted of the charges, while VPI faces possible fines of $500,000 or more for each charge. Her first court appearance scheduled for Oct. 5.

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