Sunset Park

Meat cheats! Sunset Park prime beef wholesalers embroiled in scandal

September 25, 2019 Alex Williamson
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A newly-unsealed indictment reveals some major beef between the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York and A. Stein Meat Products, Inc., a Sunset Park-based meat distribution business that was once the subject on an ill-fated deal on CNBC’s reality show “The Profit.” According to the indictment, the business now stands accused of deliberately mislabeling meat products and selling them to New York City consumers with inflated price tags.

A. Stein Meat owned the brand Brooklyn Burger, which was the official stadium burger supplier for the New York Mets and Yankees, according to an episode re-cap. A deal between “The Profit” host Marcus Lemonis and co-owners Howard Mora and Alan Buxbaum ended in a lawsuit, with Lemonis alleging he paid $190,000 for the Brooklyn Burger brand and Buxbaum and Mora never turned over the rights.

Now Mora and Buxbaum are both facing charges of wire fraud for an alleged scheme that involved directing employees at their Sunset Park processing plant to re-brand USDA “Choice” beef products as higher quality “Prime” cuts using counterfeit stamps from the federal agency, according to the complaint.

Beef is evaluated by professional USDA graders, who assess the meat for subjective qualities like tenderness, juiciness and flavor. Prime beef is the top category, and comes from young, well-fed cows who produce lots of marbling, according to the USDA. Prime cuts are usually sold in restaurants and hotels. In fiscal year 2018, just over 7 percent of all beef evaluated by the agency received a “Prime” grade.

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Choice beef, the second-highest USDA grade, has less marbling and is somewhat less tender than Prime. The vast majority of meat falls into the “Choice” category, with about 70 percent of all beef products receiving that grade.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, more detailed information about where exactly consumers in New York City may have purchased the mislabeled meat products is not public.

During their appearance on “The Profit,” Lemonis first offered Mora and Buxbaum $1 million for a 50 percent stake in A. Stein Meat, but later retracted the offer when he learned of “significant undisclosed financial problems,” specifically that the company only had enough money to remain in business for about two more weeks, according to court documents.

Lemonis offered to buy Brooklyn Burger instead, but in a civil case filed in 2014, he alleged that Mora and Buxbaum never turned over the rights to the brand and defaulted on the nearly $200,000 he’d paid them.

The USDA Office of the Inspector General carried out the investigation into the alleged meat fraud scheme, which took place between September 2011 to October 2014.

“The integrity of USDA’s food processing systems and the security of the nation’s food supply is of the utmost importance of the Office of the Inspector General, and we will continue to dedicate resources to the investigation of matters where it is called into question,” said USDA-OIG Special Agent-in-Charge Bethanne Dinkins.

Mora and Buxbaum each face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

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