Papers found in an office trash can referring to deadly bacteria that contaminated the company's cheese were among items seized last week when the Los Angeles County district attorney's office served a search warrant on Jalisco Mexican Products Inc., court records revealed Tuesday.
Investigators said they recovered three papers, as well as a stolen handgun, from a trash can at Jalisco's Artesia cheese-processing plant. They declined to say what the documents contained but they stated in court records that handwriting on the papers read: "Should require phosphatase tests. Found Listeria in product."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 4, 1985 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 1 Metro Desk 2 inches; 59 words Type of Material: Correction
As the result of an editing error, an article in Wednesday's editions of the Times incorrectly stated that the Los Angeles County district attorney's office recovered a stolen handgun from a trash can during a seearch of Jalisco Mexican Products Inc. The gun was found in a office at Jalisco's Artesia plant. Only three papers referring to a deadly bacteria that contaminated the company's cheeses were found in the trash can.
Sources close to the case said the existence of the documents raised questions that will be pursued by investigators but they refused to detail what else was contained in them.
Jalisco voluntarily shut down its plant June 13 and issued a recall of its products after health officials linked the bacterium \o7 Listeria monocytogenes \f7 to deaths and illnesses of people who consumed the company's Mexican-style cheeses. By Tuesday, 53 people in California and three in Texas had died from listeriosis, but it was not known how many of those had eaten Jalisco cheeses.
Tests conducted on samples of Jalisco-brand cheeses determined that they contained phosphatase, an enzyme that occurs in unpasteurized milk. An audit of company records by the state Food and Agriculture Department revealed that the amount of unpasteurized milk received at the plant far surpassed the company's pasteurization capacity.
The stolen gun was among various items seized by the district attorney from the company office of Jose L. Medina, the only employee licensed to operate Jalisco's pasteurizing equipment, records showed. It was not known, however, who had the gun.
Stolen in Seal Beach
The gun, a Ruger model .357 revolver, was one of two guns found by investigators as they searched the Jalisco plant the night of June 25. The revolver was reported stolen in Seal Beach, but police there did not release details. A single-shot .22-caliber weapon also was recovered at the plant.
The guns and papers were among about 20 boxes of evidence carted away by investigators as part of a criminal investigation of Jalisco, its officers and employees. The investigation centers on whether they took part in a conspiracy to make adulterated Mexican-style cheeses and sell them to the public.
Among other items seized were monthly journals, accounts payable and receivable, employee W-2 forms and payroll files, financial statements, customer lists and company check registers. Shipping invoices for 1984 and 1985 of milk Jalisco received from Alta-Dena Dairy also were seized, as were company letters, computer printouts and daily sales receipts.
Sue McPherson, wife of Jalisco president Gary McPherson, said she had no knowledge of a stolen gun being kept at the plant and no knowledge of the handwritten documents found in the trash can pertaining to \o7 Listeria.\f7
In other developments Tuesday, Cacique Cheese Co. in the City of Industry announced that it had completed its voluntary recall of three types of Mexican-style cheeses initiated last week after federal inspectors found an enzyme associated with raw milk in two packages of the company's \o7 queso fresco blanco \f7 cheese.
Cacique President Gilbert L. De Cardenas said the company had submitted the same cheese samples to two independent labs but that repeated phosphatase testing failed to turn up any evidence of the enzyme.