Lancaster farmer who disagrees with federal government over inspections receives advice from extremists: lawyer | Local News
Upper Leacock farmer Amos Miller, embroiled in a legal battle with the federal government over his failure to comply with food safety laws and court orders, is now seeking advice from extremists who do not believe in the government authority, according to his current lawyer.
Miller, owner of Miller’s Organic Farm, wants to get rid of his lawyer, Steven Lafuente, of Dallas, Texas. And Lafuente also wants to go out.
“I don’t want anything to do with these sovereign citizens,” Lafuente said Wednesday.
Adherents to “sovereign citizens” believe in the baseless claim that individuals, not courts or legislators, can decide which laws to follow.
Believers argue “they are beyond the jurisdiction of the courts,” prosecutors wrote in court files aimed at keeping Lafuente as Miller’s attorney. “(The courts) have found such positions frivolous. “
A phone message requesting comment left for Miller was not returned on Wednesday.
In early October, Miller faxed a handwritten letter to Lafuente indicating that Prairie Star National would represent him in an ongoing dispute with the government.
“Please advise the (US Department of Agriculture) that you will not be representing our farm at this time,” Miller wrote.
Prairie Star’s website contains little information other than describing itself as “claiming freedom” and providing “financial services.”
Prosecutors want Lafuente to stay on the case, essentially arguing that he is serving his client’s best interests by trying to keep Miller on track with court orders and helping bring the farm into compliance with federal regulations.
A hearing on the status of Lafuente is scheduled for Friday before US District Judge Edward G. Smith.
Winning court approval to abandon Miller as a client won’t be easy, Lafuente said. On the one hand, companies like Miller must be represented by attorneys in federal court, and Prairie Star is not a law firm, Lafuente said.
Other attorneys who represented Miller may have abandoned their representation. “The problem is, I’m the last lawyer standing,” Lafuente said.
In the past, Miller’s Organic Farm presented itself as a private club that only sold to its members and was exempt from federal regulations.
A transcript of a 2019 deposition included in court documents related to the withdrawal request shows that Lafuente convinced Miller he was wrong.
Lafuente said Miller is smart, yet impressionable and has apparently been the victim of mistaken thinking again.
Lafuente noted that federal authorities “bent over backwards” to help Miller and said he feared Miller could face jail.
Miller’s Ongoing Problems
Miller and his farm have been at odds with the government for years over federal food safety inspection regulations.
In June, Smith found Miller in contempt of a 2020 consent decree aimed at getting him and the farm to comply with food safety inspection laws. Smith also fined Miller $ 250,000.
But in documents filed in federal court Tuesday, prosecutors said Miller slaughtered and sold meat and poultry in violation of Smith’s rulings.
In August, Smith even overturned the $ 250,000 fine he had imposed on Miller a month earlier. Smith wanted to give Miller and the government more time to work on compliance issues. Miller had complied with some issues, but said he had issues with others, including using a federally inspected slaughterhouse that was nice to him and the government.
Even though Smith put the fine aside, he expressed his skepticism about Miller.
“I think [that] there is a real belief that he hid what he was doing, that he basically tried to play a game with government authorities and that this game cannot be allowed to continue, ”said Smith, according to a transcript of the hearing. “They cannot allow this to continue, I cannot allow this to continue.”
Smith’s words appear in documents filed Tuesday by prosecutors asking the court to find Miller in further contempt, apply the fine of $ 250,000, impose another fine of $ 25,000 per day for each day Miller illegally slaughtered poultry, and potentially ordering thousands of dollars in other fines and costs.
According to the file, just two days after the August hearing, the Federal Food Safety and Inspection Service received an anonymous report which led to a further investigation.
Prosecutors say that shortly after being found in contempt, Miller devised a plan to illegally slaughter and process poultry under a different trade name, Bird in Hand Meats, and on his farm adjacent to Miller’s Organic. .
“This blatant disregard for court orders and the law … demands consequences,” prosecutors wrote.
Prosecutors declined to comment on Wednesday. A hearing has not been set on the government’s request for a verdict of contempt and a fine.
Miller came to the attention of federal authorities in 2016 when the Food and Drug Administration said it had identified Listeria in samples of Miller’s raw milk and found it genetically similar to the bacteria from two people who developed listeriosis – one of which died – after consuming raw milk.
This led the Food Safety and Inspection Service to investigate and prosecute Miller’s for meat and poultry issues in 2019.
The government’s latest demands
Among the government’s demands:
• Miller had beef and hogs slaughtered without government approval at another facility.
The facility is licensed, but Miller was not allowed to slaughter without a government-approved plan that also spelled out how he was to inventory and sell thousands of pounds of seized frozen meat and poultry.
• On September 8, inspectors found an employee cutting up fresh poultry in an unrefrigerated tractor-trailer at Miller’s other farm, which is not licensed for this type of work.
• Inspectors that day also found thousands of pounds of meat and poultry in a refrigerated trailer on Miller’s main farm, but not bearing the required inspection marks.
• Inspectors visited a trucking company in late October and found three pallets containing Miller’s Organic meat and poultry that needed to be shipped to the Miami, Florida-based My Healthy Food Club run by the one of Miller’s distributors. None of the products required inspection marks.
In requesting a hearing on the proposed fines, prosecutors wrote that “… continued failures and refusals to comply (…) ability to perform their public health missions.”