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Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Probe of slaughterhouse continues

Vonderhaar Quality Meats in Fort Recovery at the center of investigation

By Margie Wuebker
Seventy-four people have filed reports with the Mercer County Sheriff's Office indicating they were victimized as a result of business practices at Vonderhaar's Quality Meats in Fort Recovery.
The reports range from shortages of several pounds to more than a hundred when they brought animals for slaughter and processing. Several people complained of spoiled meat.
"I believe we have some solid cases to pursue but definitely not all 74," Sheriff Jeff Grey told The Daily Standard on Monday afternoon. "This has been a complicated investigation since day one."
Farmers have guidelines indicating how much meat to expect from a steer weighing a certain number of pounds.
"It's difficult to prove shortages of several pounds because of various factors," the sheriff added. "When the shortfall is a hundred pounds or so, that's a different matter entirely."
Investigators have a "cooperating witness," who is providing valuable information into what allegedly transpired, according to Grey.
He expects the investigation to conclude within several weeks, at which time reports will be sent to the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office for review. He believes the resulting charges could be a mix of felonies and misdemeanors.
A March meeting at the Fort Recovery Village Hall drew more than 50 people willing to share how they were victimized. One man reportedly brought a healthy steer to the business for butchering and processing. After receiving no call regarding pickup of the order, he went to the facility only to be told the animal had been killed and dumped after it reportedly broke a leg. USDA regulations prohibit the processing of a downed animal.
Others reported receiving meat that smelled and/or tasted funny.
Owner John Bihn contacted the sheriff's office Feb. 13 after receiving complaints from customers claiming they did not receive all the meat from steers brought to the facility for slaughter and processing.
Bihn purchased the meat market more than a year ago and hired others to oversee operations. The names of those people, who were let go in the wake of the investigation, have not been released.
Investigators subsequently met with Bihn and then interviewed several witnesses and/or alleged victims. A search warrant was executed with deputies seizing boxes of business records and photographing hanging beef.
Bihn's son, John "Bear," has taken over management of the business.
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