PITTSBURGH – A Laotian immigrant who had what federal agents said were slaughterhouses in his homes has been ordered to stop selling uninspected poultry and to spend two years on probation.
Xia Xue Vue, 84, pleaded guilty in October to selling or transporting poultry without inspection. He was sentenced by a federal judge in Pittsburgh on Thursday.
Local officials repeatedly cited Vue for slaughtering animals he bought at farm auctions for the last 20 years, but Vue's attorney said the animal killing was part of the culture of Laos, a Southeast Asian country with about 7 million residents.
U.S. Department of Agriculture agents raided one of Vue's homes in January 2013 and seized more than 50 chickens, several pigeons, some ducks and a peacock. Authorities contended Vue slaughtered those animals, along with goats and pigs, at his homes in Jefferson Hills and Pittsburgh's West End.
Vue ran afoul of federal law by selling the poultry to ethnic food stores without it being inspected by the government.
Senior Judge Maurice Cohill Jr. was going to ban Vue from slaughtering any animals at his homes until defense attorney Martin Dietz argued it's part of his client's culture to kill their own food.
"So Judge Cohill told him, 'You can kill them for your own use, but you can't sell them,'" Dietz said after the sentencing hearing.
"Back on Laos, they were a very wealthy family, but they killed all their own food," he said. "It was basically just Laotian culture colliding with all of our bureaucratic regulations."
Dietz said he doesn't believe anyone became sick from eating meat that Vue had slaughtered. He sought lenience on the grounds that Vue performed a valuable service to the United States when he was a soldier in the Laotian army during the Vietnam war.
In 1996, U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad, a Minnesota Republican, awarded a Defenders of Freedom Citation to Vue, who used to live in Minnesota, for his bravery in the "rescuing of American air personnel" during the war.
Dietz said Vue fought against the North Vietnamese on behalf of the United States.
"He's a good dude," Dietz said. "This was just his culture. He wasn't trying to get rich. He was just making a couple of extra bucks on the side."