Thursday, November 10, 2016

Undercover sting nabs California mother selling ceviche through Facebook group

Mariza Ruelas never expected a plate of ceviche would lead her to the courthouse and maybe even a possible jail sentence.

For more than a year, undercover investigators in San Joaquin County, Calif., tracked the sales of food — such as homemade tamales, tortillas and cakes — through a community Facebook group, a sting that Ruelas called a “waste of time and resources and taxpayers’ money.”

Ruelas, a single mother of six, first came across the Facebook group about two years ago when she needed a last-minute cake for her daughter’s quinceaƱera, the Hispanic coming-of-age celebration on a young woman’s 15th birthday.

The community forum, 209 Food Spot, allowed Stockton, Calif., residents to share recipes, organize potlucks and occasionally sell or exchange food items.

As a hobby, about once a month, Ruelas began offering up her own dishes — a tray of rice and beans in exchange for a birthday cake, her chicken-stuffed avocados to those who requested them, she said in a phone interview with The Washington Post.

Then, in July, she received a letter in the mail: She was being summoned to court. Ruelas, along with several other group members, faced citations on two misdemeanors — operating a food facility and engaging in business without a permit. An undercover investigator had ordered ceviche from her through the Facebook group in October 2015 as part of a sting.

At least a half-dozen other members accepted a plea deal of one year of probation, a $235 fine and 40 hours of community service. Ruelas was offered a deal with twice the community service, three years of probation and the $235 fine, so she refused to accept it, she said.

She is headed to trial and faces up to a year in jail.

The full Washington Post article can be found HERE

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