SAN FRANCISCO -- Four top officials at a now-defunct Bay Area slaughterhouse have been indicted by a federal grand jury and are accused of allowing tainted meat into the food supply -- going so far as to swap diseased cows' heads with those of healthy cows to avoid inspection, officials say.

The revelation of diseased meat forced Rancho Feeding Corporation to recall about 8.7 million pounds of beef products six months ago. The company went out of business in February.

The newly unsealed indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in San Francisco last week, ¿charges Rancho co-owner Jesse "Babe" Amaral, Jr., 76, with distribution of adulterated, misbranded and uninspected meat; conspiracy; and mail fraud conspiracy. Eugene Corda, 65, who was in charge of receiving cattle and moving them for inspection and slaughter, and Felix Cabrera, 55, the foreman who ran the kill floor, face the same charges.

The indictment also charges Amaral with mail fraud and mail fraud conspiracy in a separate scheme to defraud farmers with false invoicing.

Rancho co-owner Robert Singleton, 77, of Petaluma, is charged with one count of distribution of adulterated, misbranded and uninspected meat.

All of the defendants are charged with violating the Federal Meat Inspection Act, federal officials said.

Between mid- to late 2012 and January 2014, Amaral instructed Cabrera to process cattle that had been condemned by a U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarian and Cabrera directed Rancho employees to carve "USDA Condemned" stamps out of the cattle carcasses and to process the carcasses for transport, sale and distribution, federal officials said.


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Rancho distributed more than 100 condemned cattle, according to the charging documents.

Officials also say that during the same time period, Amaral and Singleton directed Cabrera and Corda to sidestep inspection procedures for cattle showing signs of "cancer eye," a disease that can result in condemnation.

The indictment alleges that Amaral and Singleton had Rancho employees, including Cabrera and Corda, slaughter cancer-eye cows during USDA inspectors' lunch breaks, a time during which plant operations were supposed to cease, and then to conceal the diseased cow heads by swapping them with healthy cow heads for the post-mortem inspections.

Amaral is also accused of fraudulently charging farmers "handling fees" based on false statements that their cattle had died or been condemned, when the cattle had actually been sold for human consumption.

Amaral and Corda appeared in federal court Monday morning; Amaral was released on a $50,000 secured bond. Corda was scheduled for a bond hearing Monday afternoon. Singleton is due in court on Friday and Cabrera has not yet made his initial appearance.

The charges carry sentences that vary from three to 20 years in prison, with fines from $10,000 to $250,000.

Follow Kristin J. Bender at Twitter.com/kjbender.