He knew what he was doing: “American Grocers shipped so much stale merchandise that the company bought paint solvent by the barrel and set up assembly lines to wipe out the old labels to make room for the phony dates.” So what was his intent? Just to make a profit? Or to cripple the military in Iraq as well? Does anyone know? Does anyone care? After all, we have seen cases like this before, although details remain elusive.
A Texas businessman has agreed to pay $15 million to settle federal allegations that he and his company cheated the government by selling old and potentially dangerous food to the U.S. military to supply combat troops serving in Iraq and elsewhere.
Prosecutors had alleged that Samir Mahmoud Itani and his company American Grocers Ltd. profited from the Middle East conflict by ripping off taxpayers and shortchanging U.S. soldiers in the mess hall. According to the government, Itani’s firm bought deeply discounted products whose freshness dates had expired or were nearing expiration. His workers then altered those dates and resold those supplies to the government for hefty markups, prosecutors alleged.
On Friday, Department of Justice officials announced that Itani, his wife, Suzanne, his brother Ziad and the company agreed to pay the penalty to settle the false-claim charges in this federal whistle-blower case.
Suzanne Itani, chief executive of American Grocers, said in a statement that the company denied any wrongdoing and that the settlement was a way to avoid lengthy litigation. She said that the company was “proud of the service and products it delivers to its customers” and that company officials “look forward to returning our full attention to serving our many loyal customers throughout the world.”
Samir Itani could not be reached for comment. According to property records, he owns a $2.2-million, 9,931-square-foot mansion with two elevators in an upscale Houston neighborhood.
Prosecutors said that Samir Itani, 51, and a tightknit group of family and business acquaintances sold at least $36 million worth of mislabeled food products to the government. […]
As the U.S. military presence grew in the Middle East, Itani’s business boomed. American Grocers shipped so much stale merchandise that the company bought paint solvent by the barrel and set up assembly lines to wipe out the old labels to make room for the phony dates, according to the complaint.
The Justice Department did not say whether any troops were sickened by the food supplied by American Grocers, or whether any of the food companies that sold items to Itani knew of any wrongdoing.