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03/25/2011

Disgruntled former restaurant worker pleads guilty to poisoning salsa

KANSAS CITY, Kan. - A local man pleaded guilty Tuesday to hatching a scheme to put poison in salsa served to patrons at Mi Ranchito restaurant in Lenexa, Kan. The guilty plea resulted from a joint investigation conducted by the following agencies: U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Office of Criminal Investigation; Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Criminal Investigation Division; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); the Lenexa Police Department; Johnson County District Attorney's Office; the Kansas Department of Agriculture; the Kansas Department of Health and Environment; and the Johnson County Health Department.

Arnoldo Bazan, 31, of Shawnee, Kan., pleaded guilty March 22 to a charge of conspiracy to tamper with a consumer product. In his plea, Bazan admitted he was angry after losing his job in June 2009 at the Mi Ranchito restaurant in Olathe, Kan. He believed the owner of the restaurant was responsible for him losing his job and his car being stolen.

Bazan and his wife, Yini De La Torre, who was a waitress at a Mi Ranchito restaurant in Lenexa, Kan., devised a scheme to get revenge by putting a pesticide into the salsa at the Lenexa Mi Ranchito. On two occasions, De La Torre put a Methomyl-based pesticide into the salsa. On Aug. 11, 2009, 12 patrons of Mi Ranchito suffered instant nausea, abdominal cramps, weakness, sweating and chest discomfort after consuming salsa. On Aug 30, 2009, 36 patrons of Mi Ranchito suffered similar or more severe symptoms after consuming salsa. Some were transported to the hospital. The poisoned patrons ranged from young children to senior citizens, some with medical conditions that were aggravated by the poisoning.

Bazan's sentencing is set for June 28. He faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000. De La Torre was sentenced to 87 months and ordered to pay more than $478,000 in restitution after pleading guilty to the same charge.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Rask, District of Kansas, is prosecuting the case.