(even this story does not list all the different poisions they found in the recalled food) FEB 7 08. KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Two Chinese businesses and the owners of a Las Vegas company were indicted Wednesday in the tainted pet food incidents that killed potentially thousands of animals last year and raised worries about products made in China.
ChemNutra Inc. owners Stephen Miller, 55, and his wife, Sally, 41, are charged with participating in a conspiracy to import the tainted pet food. They are charged with 26 misdemeanor counts and face a maximum punishment of one year in prison and $100,000 fines each.
More serious is a felony charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The indictment revolves around allegations that Sally Miller, a Chinese national with a degree in engineering, and her husband introduced misbranded food into interstate commerce.
Steve Stern, a spokesman for ChemNutra, said the Millers "deny the allegations by the Justice Department in the strongest of terms and look forward to the opportunity to prove their innocence at trial. Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Miller had any intent to defraud or knowledge of any wrongdoing."
Stern added: "No one has proved definitively that melamine (the chemical tainting pet food) kills cats. The FDA can't prove it."
A study at Cornell University indicated that cats with an existing allergy may have died when they were exposed to melamine, he said.
"My understanding is that it really didn't affect dogs," Stern said.
Attempts to reach local veterinarians for comment late Wednesday were unsuccessful.
In an earlier interview with the Review-Journal, Stephen Miller said he was a victim of fraud.
Miller said he was stunned when he learned wheat gluten, a component he imported from China for pet food makers, had been tainted with the toxic chemical melamine, which is used in plastics and as a fire retardant.
The Chinese companies indicted Wednesday were Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co.; Suzhou Textiles, Silk, Light Industrial Products Arts and Crafts I/E Co..
The U.S. attorney's office in Kansas City said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received consumer reports suggesting 1,950 cats and 2,200 dogs died after eating food contaminated with the toxic chemical melamine.
U.S. Attorney John F. Wood said authorities haven't been able to substantiate all those reports, but "as for pet deaths, we think it's in the thousands."
One of the indictments charges Xuzhou Anying Biologic, located in China's Jiangsu Province, and Suzhou Textiles, in Suzhou, China, with 13 felony counts of introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce and 13 felony counts of introduction of misbranded food into interstate commerce.
The indictment also names Mao Linzhun, Xuzhou's owner, and Zhen Hao Chen, Suzhou's president.
The indictments allege that Suzhou Textiles, an export broker, mislabeled 800 metric tons of tainted wheat gluten manufactured by Xuzhou to avoid inspection in China. Suzhou then did not properly declare the contaminated product it shipped to the U.S. as a material to be used in food, the indictment says.
It also says the shipment was falsely declared to the Chinese government in a way that would avoid a mandatory inspection of the company's plants.
"The defendants intended to deceive the Chinese government in addition to consumers," Wood said.
According to the indictment, ChemNutra picked up the melamine-tainted product at a port of entry in Kansas City, then sold it to makers of various brands of pet foods. The indictment alleges that Xuzhou added the melamine to artificially boost the protein content of the gluten to meet the requirements specified in Suzhou's contract with ChemNutra.
Wood said adding the melamine, which would allow it to pass chemical inspections for protein content, was cheaper than actually adding protein to the gluten.
He added that prosecutors aren't alleging that the Millers and ChemNutra knew that the product was toxic, only that they were aware the product had been shipped into the U.S. under false pretenses and failed to notify their customers.
"Millions of pet owners remember the anxiety of last year's pet food recall. These indictments are the product of an investigation that began in the wake of that recall," Wood said.
Wood said the Chinese government is cooperating with the investigation and shut down Xuzhou shortly after its connection to the melamine scare was discovered last year.
In addition, Chinese officials signed an agreement in December increasing inspections on a number of products, including pet food ingredients, Wood said.
"Since this issue came to light, steps have been taken to protect consumer safety," Wood said.
He added that Chinese authorities took Linzhun into custody at the time his company was shut down, but he said he didn't know if Linzhun was still in custody.
The U.S. doesn't have an extradition treaty with China, meaning there's no legal way to force China to hand over Linzhun or Chen, Wood said. But federal authorities have alerted Interpol and other law enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for them if they leave China.
ChemNutra, the couple's company, was established almost four years ago in Pasadena, Calif. They relocated the company to Las Vegas about two years ago.
Review-Journal writer John Edwards contributed to this report.
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