Miami's Curd Cowboys: Is Cheese the New Cocaine?
On December 18, 2010, a freighter named America Feeder arrived at the Port of Miami from Nicaragua. Federal agents were secretly running surveillance on one container, marked ARLU 5102167.
Five days later, the container was hitched to a truck and driven, with agents trailing, to a cold-storage facility on NW 52nd Street. A male and female subject showed up at the scene. That's when the feds swooped in and seized the illicit cargo.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents escorted the truck to a government warehouse, where they opened it and inspected the contents. Just as they suspected: 398 boxes -- a multiton shipment -- of pure, uncut, and unpasteurized hard cheese.
ICE and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had been after this operation for a while. Husband-and-wife duo Yuri and Anneri Izurieta -- owners of Naver Trading Corp. -- were notorious for smuggling in unpasteurized Nicaraguan cheese, which, according to the indictment, can carry foodborne diseases such as E. coli. The Izurietas had lied on the bill of lading to get the hard cheese into the United States, declaring that the shipments contained "soft cook [sic] ripped cheese" and "dairy topping."
They had been warned by authorities about importing the illegal curds and even admitted under interrogation to having sold "a shipment of 4,890 kilograms of imported cheese that contained both E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus," according to the feds.
On May 12, the Izurietas were convicted on six smuggling counts. They face a maximum of 20 years per count. Their lawyer did not return a call for comment.
If a virtually identical recent case is any indication, this is becoming something of a delicious epidemic.
In December 2009, the FDA ordered another husband-and-wife pair -- Francisca Josefina Lopez and Jorge Alexis Ochoa Lopez -- to return more than 1,600 cartons of Nicaraguan cheese worth $322,000 after it tested positive for S. aureus. Instead, the Lopezes tried to trick authorities by replacing most of the cheese with "waste water" so that it would weigh the same. They were sentenced to 45 days in prison and two years of supervised release.
So why were they so desperate to unload the product? "She was pressured by the seller in Nicaragua," Francisca told the feds, "because the cheese was given to her on credit and the payment was due."
Anybody else just picture a dairy-based-Scarface-style kingpin with a giant, knife-hacked cheese wheel on his desk and cracker dust on his face?
We've embedded the Naver Trading indictment below.
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