PETALUMA -- A congressman says federal officials have launched a criminal probe of a Northern California slaughterhouse that recently recalled more than 8.7 million pounds of beef.

U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman told the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa on Monday he learned about the U.S. Attorney's Office's investigation of Petaluma-based Rancho Feeding Corp. during a telephone call with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Congressman Mike Thompson.

Huffman said investigators could not provide details, but he was told the suspected misconduct was grave.

The Rancho beef recall began Jan. 13 and was expanded in February. The USDA has said Rancho processed diseased and unhealthy animals and circumvented federal inspection rules.

Robert Singleton, a partner in Rancho, has denied the allegations. He told the Press Democrat he was unaware of a criminal investigation

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Information from: The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, http://www.pressdemocrat.com