Inspections, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations

February 28, 2012: Rhode Island Man Pleads Guilty to Selling Mislabeled Maple Syrup

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Food and Drug Administration
Office of Criminal Investigations

U.S. Department of Justice Press Release


For Immediate Release
February 28, 2012

United States Attorney
District of Vermont
(802) 951-6725


The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont stated that Bernard Coleman, 50, of West Warwick, Rhode Island, pleaded guilty before Chief Judge Christina Reiss in United States District Court in Rutland, Vermont, on February 23, 2012, to a one-count indictment charging him with introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce with the intent to defraud or mislead, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 331(a).

According to court proceedings, in 2009, a Vermont resident purchased what was advertised to be pure Vermont maple syrup through an on-line auction. The resident communicated via email with the seller, later identified to be the defendant, Bernard Coleman, and arranged to meet the defendant in Brattleboro, Vermont, to collect the product. The resident paid $220.50 for the product when he picked it up.

The resident gave some of the purported syrup to his wife, who happens to make specialty items out of maple syrup. She determined based on the look, smell, and taste of the product that it was not real maple syrup. The couple brought the product to the Vermont Department of Agriculture Consumer Protection. The product was tested by a laboratory, and it was determined to be made from cane sugar.

The Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, were brought in to investigate. Agents found an advertisement on for the sale of “Vermont maple syrup,” and began negotiating with the seller, later identified to be the defendant. Ultimately, a shipment of purported maple syrup was sent by the defendant to undercover agents at a post office box in Burlington, Vermont. This shipment also tested as being made from cane sugar. The agents purchased purported maple syrup from the defendant using an undercover on two additional occasions.

Through investigation, the agents discovered that the defendant had been buying four gallon-quantities of maple flavoring from a supply store in Rhode Island since approximately 2009. The defendant purchased the maple flavoring approximately 10 times.

On May 17, 2011, the agents interviewed the defendant. During this interview, he admitted that while he initially sold pure maple syrup over the Internet, when the price of maple syrup increased, he decided to make his own out of water, sugar, and maple flavoring. He admitted that he made the purported maple syrup in his Rhode Island home, and that he had been selling fake maple syrup since approximately 2009.

Coleman faces a maximum term of three (3) years imprisonment, a term of supervised release of up to one (1) year, and a fine of up to $10,000. The actual sentence will be determined by Judge Reiss with reference to the advisory federal sentencing guidelines.

United States Attorney Coffin commended the efforts of the FDA, Office of Criminal Investigations, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, in conducting the investigation of Coleman.

The prosecution of Coleman is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara Masterson. Coleman is represented by David McColgin of the Federal Defender's Office.

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