Inspections, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations
February 9, 2011: Kansas Woman Sentenced to Prison for Poisoning Salsa at Lenexa Restaurant
KANSAS CITY, KAN. – Yini De La Torre, 20, Shawnee, Kan., has been sentenced to 87 months in federal prison for putting poison in salsa served to patrons at Mi Ranchito restaurant in Lenexa, Kan., U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said today.
De La Torre pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to tamper with a consumer product. In her plea, she admitted that while working as a waitress at the Mi Ranchito restaurant in Lenexa she twice added Methomyl-based pesticide to salsa she prepared. On Aug. 11, 2009, during the lunch rush, 12 diners at Mi Ranchito suffered nausea, abdominal cramps, weakness, sweating and chest discomfort after eating salsa. On Aug. 30, 2009, during dinner, approximately 36 patrons of Mi Ranchito suffered similar symptoms after eating salsa. Some of the customers were transported to the hospital. The poisoned patrons ranged from young children to senior citizens, some of whom suffered from medical conditions that were aggravated by the poison.
In her plea, De La Torre said her husband and co-defendant Arnoldo Bazan worked for a Mi Ranchito restaurant in Olathe until June 27, 2009. Bazan believed the owner of the Mi Ranchito chain was responsible for Bazan being suspended from employment and the theft of Bazan’s vehicle. Bazan hatched a plot with De La Torre to get even with the owner of the restaurant by poisoning the patrons of Mi Ranchito. During July 2009, the owner of the Mi Ranchito restaurant reported to the Overland Park Police Department that Bazan was stalking him. On Aug. 7, 2009, a message was sent to the restaurant’s Web site threatening harm if Bazan’s vehicle were not returned. On Aug. 28, 2009, before the second poisoning incident, Bazan sent word to the owner of the restaurant through a family member that “the worst is yet to come.”
While Lenexa police were investigating the poisoning, Bazan told Da La Torre not to speak with investigators or she would suffer physical harm. The Johnson County Health Department collected samples of food from the restaurant as well as blood and urine samples from the patrons who became ill. A Food and Drug Administration lab found Methomyl in the salsa. A laboratory at the University of California - Davis found Methomyl in the samples from the patrons. Methomyl is a highly toxic compound introduced in 1966 as an insecticide for treatment of vegetable, fruit and field crops.
As a result of the poisoning incidents, all six Mi Ranchito restaurants suffered reduced income. The Mi Ranchito in Lenexa saw sales for September and October 2009 decline by approximately $250,000.
“The defendant demonstrated a disregard for the potentially life-threatening consequence of her actions and for the harm she actually inflicted on the victims,” said Special Agent in Charge Patrick Holland of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement counterparts to aggressively pursue those who place the public health at risk and harm others by tampering with food, drugs or other FDA-regulated products.”
Co-defendant Arnoldo Bazan is set for jury trial April 4.
Grissom commended the following agencies and individuals for their work on the case: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration - Office of Criminal Investigation, the Environmental Protection Agency - Criminal Investigation Division, the Lenexa Police Department, the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office, the Kansas Department of Agriculture, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the Johnson County Health Department, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Rask.
In all cases, defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty. The indictments filed merely contain allegations of criminal conduct.