KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
BENNINGTON -- A local man who used false labels to claim the meat he sold from his poultry farm in Buskirk, N.Y. was "free range" and "farm raised," when in fact it was bought from other wholesalers, told investigators he did so because a flood that killed 1,000 of his chickens forced him into dire financial straights.
Craig Acton, 44, of Bennington and owner Hoosic River Poultry, pleaded guilty in August to a felony charge of fraudulently using a United States Department of Agriculture legend on meat products he sold through his farm at New York City Greenmarkets. Acton was sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court Northern District of New York by Chief United States District Judge Gary L. Sharpe to serve two years on probation and complete 50 hours of community service.
Assistant District Attorney Daniel Hanlon said Acton would purchase meat from other legitimate suppliers then use a false USDA label to re-label it as being from his farm and qualifying as organic or farm-raised so it could be sold at a higher price. Hanlon said there were no allegations that the meat was unsafe, but USDA inspection standards are high for safety reasons as they look at proper storage and handling of meat.
According to court filings, on June 29, 2011 the USDA received a tip from a hotline that alleged Acton had repackaged meat and sold it at New York City Greenmarkets. The meat from Hoosic River Poultry was being marketed as farm-raised, free-range chickens with no medications or hormones added. Acton admitted to creating the labels himself and said he would purchased about $1,200 in meat per week and sell it in New York City for $5,000.
Acton told investigators he started the farm in 2006 and was aware of and understood the regulations he would be under. Sometime in 2010 Acton’s then-girlfriend, who assisted him on the farm, was stricken with Lyme disease and could no longer help him. Around that time a flood killed 1,000 chickens on the farm, putting in dire financial straits, Acton told investigators. He said he intended to stop the repackaging practice once he had recouped his losses.
A sentencing memo was filed by Acton’s attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender George E. Baird Jr., who wrote Acton has expressed remorse for his actions and is sorry he sold customers a product different from what he was marketing. "Without undermining the seriousness of Mr. Acton’s conduct in this case, it is important to note that the meat that was repackaged was always done properly and under sanitary conditions, it was refrigerated during transport, and as a result Mr. Acton never feared the product would cause anyone to become ill."
Court records indicate Acton no longer runs the farm and is employed elsewhere in Bennington County.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr