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June 04, 2010

Bushway Owner Charged with Animal Cruelty

Calf_veal_investigation_1_hsus_281x210 **UPDATE: ARREST WARRANTS DETAIL CRUELTY CHARGES**
Bushway slaughterhouse owner Frank Perretta, the co-owner of Bushway Packing slaughterhouse in Grand Isle, and a plant worker have been charged with animal cruelty, Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell announced Friday.

Perretta, who is 51 and lives in St. Albans, has been charged with one count of cruelty to animals. Christopher Gaudette, a 37-year-old plant worker with a rap sheet that includes drug possession and forgery, has been charged with three counts of cruelty to animals, a misdemeanor, and one count of aggravated cruelty to animals — a felony, according to a press release.  Law enforcement couldn't locate either, so a warrant has been issued for their arrest.

Perretta faces up to a year in prison and $2000 in fines for the misdemeanor charge. The felony charge carries a penalty of up to three years in prison and fines of $5000 for Gaudette.

Bushway has been shut down since October, when an undercover Humane Society video showed day-old veal calves too weak to stand being shocked, dragged and skinned alive in the plant. However, two of the three owners of Bushway are preparing to re-open Bushway under a new name, and have signed a "consent agreement" with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to do so.

According to the AG's press release, "The charges stem from the alleged excessive shocking of calves being processed at the Bushway Packing plant." The joint investigation was conducted by the attorney general's office, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, and the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service.

The U.S. attorney's office in Burlington is apparently conducting its own investigation and has interviewed individuals who worked at Bushway for possible federal criminal charges. Vermont Assistant AG Cindy Maguire tells Seven Days the state charges do not preclude federal charges against Bushway employees.

The Bushway animal abuse sparked outrage across the country, Congressional hearings and demands that food safety and humane slaughtering laws be enforced. In Vermont, the incident inspired soul searching, as the cruelty sullied Vermont's image as a pristine food producer. The Legislature responded by passing a bill that would toughen penalties for slaughterhouse abuse and train plant workers in humane handling.

"EGREGIOUS INHUMANE HANDLING"

Court papers reveal new details about abuse at Bushway and an undercover video that led to criminal charges for two of its employees.

In July 2009, the Humane Society of the United States hired Jason Smith, described as "an independent contractor who conducts undercover work for organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States." Humane Society director of investigations Mary Beth Sweeney contacted Smith after receiving a "hotline complaint" about abuse of veal calves at Bushway.

Smith started work at the plant on August 18, 2009. After six weeks on the job, the owners asked him to sign humane handling and HAZMAT documents — even though Smith hadn't been given any training in those areas.

Smith told investigators he started recording hidden footage on his first day. Smith says he was given an electric prod but says he never used it with electricity. Smith told investigators that Perretta always used electricity and said he could hear the "buzz" sound it made.

Smith worked at Bushway until September 30 and shot 15 hours of hidden video, consisting of 33 scenes he labeled "Handling and Inspection" and 38 scenes labeled "Stunning and Consciousness."

The Humane Society turned the video over to USDA investigators, who in turned showed it to Dr. Ata Chaundhry, a USDA veterinarian medical specialist based in Albany. Several scenes showed Perretta using what Chaundhry described as "excessive" prodding of calves. One in particular, filmed on September 8, 2009, constituted "egregious inhumane handling" in Chaundhry's view, and is the basis for the charge against Perretta. In court papers, Chaundhry describes the scene as follows: "White calf with brown marking is shocked excessively. The owner continues to shock the calf who falls down the ramp and goes down again, and once on the ground where he is prodded repeatedly and then subsequently euthanized."

The court document goes on, "A view of the video indicates that Perretta shocked the calf approximately 6 times before picking it up and shocking it again. After the calf is pushed out the door of the truck and falls again, Perretta shocks it another three times."

Two other incidents should have triggered regulatory action against Perretta and Bushway and didn't, Chaundhry says — but did not constitute egregious inhumane handling. In "Scene 8," filmed on September 1, 2009, Perretta knees an animal in the back side, causing the animal to fall down the trailer ramp and another animal to fall at the trailer door. In "Scene 32," filmed on September 29, 2009, Perretta is seen prodding a brown calf, causing the animal to make noise and kick.

USDA investigators interviewed Perretta on November 4, 2009, and showed him the clips in question, according to court papers. Perretta says he didn't see a problem with his actions in the tape. "He stated that he grabbed the calf by the back of the hips to stand it up, gave it a couple of taps, and the calf staggered and fell against the trailer," court papers read. "When he realized the calf would not get up, he shot it."

"HE USED THE PROD BECAUSE HE DIDN'T WANT TO BEND OVER"

Christopher Gaudette, the Bushway employee who faces the more serious felony animal cruelty charge, was involved in three incidents Chaundhry deemed "egregious." In the most shocking instance, filmed on September 15, 2009, Gaudette is shown shocking a downed calf 11 times until the calf gets up.

"Gaudette then shocks another calf eight more times, then picks up and drops the calf and then shocks it five more times," court papers read. "He then kicks it. Gaudette then pours water on the calf's head and shocks it seven more times, including placing the prod directly in the area where the water was poured, thus enhancing the electrical current." Chaundhry calls Gaudette's treatment of the animals "abusive, excessive, cruel, inhumane and egregious."

According to court documents, Gaudette acknowledged to USDA investigators that his treatment of the calves was excessive, but said he used the prod "because he did not want to bend over to help the animals to their feet." Normally, he told investigators, he would only use electricity "once or twice" on an animal while trying to get calves to stand and move. Gaudette told investigators he received no training in humane handling, a fact disputed by Perretta.

Interviewed about Gaudette's actions, Perretta told investigators his employee's behavior was "excessive" and "ludicrous." "Perretta stated that he could not understand why Gaudette would have spent that kind of energy when he should have shot the calf," court documents state.

Two of three co-owners of Bushway Packing, Terry Rooney and John McCracken, are planning to reopen the plant under a new name, Champlain Valley Meats Inc., which was incorporated in January. Their attorney, Peter Langrock, who represents Bushway but not Perretta or Gaudette specifically, tells Seven Days the new owners are moving through the permit process but have no fixed date for a grand opening. Langrock says "many changes" will be made to ensure the past problems at Bushway don't reoccur.

Previous Bushway coverage in Seven Days:

Grand Isle Slaughterhouse Closed Following Charges of Inhumane Treatment

Emails Suggest Vermont Meat Inspector Knew About Bushway Abuse

Bills of Fare

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