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Man charged with putting needles in packaged meat 'for the hell of it’

Published time: August 01, 2014 08:20
Edited time: August 01, 2014 10:11
Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

An Illinois man was jailed without bond after being charged of inserting sewing needles into packaged meat at a grocery store on at least seven occasions over more than a year.

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A criminal complaint was filed against Ronald Avers, 68, who appeared in court Thursday on seven counts of tampering with meat products, each punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Avery was ordered jailed pending a scheduled detention hearing Monday.

The court complaint provided testimony from customers of a Shop 'n Save store in the suburbs of St. Louis, with one saying he bit into one of the needles that was inserted into a piece of boneless chuck roast.

SuperValu Inc., the corporate parent of the Shop 'n Save franchise, said that none of the cases resulted in serious injury, and that the alleged tampering was confined to only the meat department of one chain.

"With every customer that brought it to our attention, none reported needing medical attention as a result of the tampering," AP quoted Jeff Swanson, a SuperValu spokesman, as saying. "We have no reason to believe any tampering occurred outside of that one store."

In an affidavit filed with the criminal complaint, FBI Special Agent Daniel Cook wrote that Shop 'n Save reported the tampering on July 9. However, the first case occurred in May of last year when a customer first discovered a needle in a package of ground beef. About four months later, according to Cook’s complaint, a store worker found a needle protruding from a package of pork chops.

Customers later were surprised to find needles in everything from ground beef to hamburger patties.

Shop 'n Save's security officials, using surveillance camera footage, spotted the suspect manipulating meat products without purchasing them. When the man was seen entering the store Tuesday, security notified the FBI.

The suspect was approached by investigators outside the store and allowed them to search his vehicles, where an open package of sewing needles was found. Originally saying the needles were for mending his pants, Avery finally acknowledged the true purpose of the needles.

"'Every now and then I would stick one in a hamburger,'" Cook quoted Avers as saying. "'Mostly hamburger, a couple of times I did it with a roast, maybe a pork chop every now and then.'"

Avers insisted the suspect had no clear motive for the tampering.

"Avers said during the interview two times he inserted sewing needles into packaged meat products, 'just for the hell of it.'" the FBI agent wrote, adding that Avers continued: "It was stupidity. I didn't want to hurt nobody."

Court records show that Avers has a history of traffic offenses but no previous criminal history.

Shop ‘n Save said any customer who bought fresh meat from the store before July 12 is entitled to a full refund.