CHICAGO – Two executives of a German-based company have been arrested on federal charges of conspiring to import honey from China contaminated with an illegal antibiotic, authorities said Tuesday.
Prosecutors issued a statement saying the honey was falsely labeled as coming from countries including Russia and Ukraine to avoid paying antidumping duties slapped on Chinese honey. It also contained an antibiotic that is not approved for use in food-producing animals, including bees.
A search of the Chicago offices of Hamburg-based Alfred L. Wolff GmbH showed that a shipment of honey was sold to a company in Texas even though it was found to have contained the antibiotic, authorities said.
Stefanie Giesselbach, 30, the national sales manager for the company's Chicago office, was arrested at O'Hare International Airport on Friday night as she prepared to board a flight to Germany, prosecutors said. Magnus von Buddenbrock, 32, the general manager of the Chicago office, was arrested after dropping Giesselbach at the airport.
"We have reviewed the complaint," defense attorney James Montana said. "Mr. von Buddenbrock is completely innocent of the charges and we intend to defend this case vigorously."
Giesselbach's attorney James Marcus said he had not yet seen the complaint and would not be able to comment on it immediately.
The conspiracy charges carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. A bond hearing has been scheduled for Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin Ashman.
Antidumping duties are applied to offset allegedly unfair trade practices by the country where the products originated. The Commerce Department applied such duties to Chinese honey effective last July.
Prosecutors said that in February federal agents took samples from nine containers of honey with a total value of $300,000 that were marked as having come from Russia — to which antidumping duties don't apply.
Tests showed three of the nine were from China, prosecutors said.
Tests also showed 57 metric tons marked "Light Amber Polish Honey" that the company had arranged to sell may also have come from China.
The two defendants also claimed that another honey shipment that came from China was actually produced in Ukraine, prosecutors said.
A confidential informant told prosecutors that it was well known among some company executives, including one of the defendants, that shipments of honey contaminated by the antibiotic were being imported.