A Mother Of Six Might Serve Jail Time For Selling Food On Facebook

RealClear Staff

            

     Many folks are part of inner forums on Facebook—some even swap food and recipes (a way to connect...). Single-mother Marisa Ruelas took great pride and had fun in being part of 209 Food Spot—a social-media circle. It was a community for thousands of Northern Californians to share recipes, cooking tips and sometimes swap dishes for favors and other meals. Ruelas had a special ceviche dish she enjoyed exchanging within this food forum. 

[Mariza Ruelas & family | Source: GoFundMe]

Recently, the unemployed, single 37-year-old mother made too much ceviche and decided to sell it on her social-media circle—$12/plate (32 ounces). One guy was so stoked on the ceviche, he made an offer to take it off her hands—Ruelas readied the food for him. Not long after the exchange, she received some bad news from the San Joaquin County DA’s office.

She and several others were targets in a San Joaquin County sting. These foodies were facing misdemeanors for operating a food facility and a business without a license. Her day in court came, as she saw her culinary accomplices (mostly women) being offered plea bargains—everybody signed but her.

Save Ruelas, many were offered one-year probation, 40 hours of community service and $250 in fine. But they had a special dish for the ceviche chef—a three-year probation and 80 hours of service work. Ruelas said she was served a separate sentence for disclosing the whole debacle on social media.

But Ruelas was blown away at what she felt was injustice—neither her nor the other women were among those who were given warning from the EHD (Environmental Health Department)—so she refused to sign the plea. Rather than ratifying the deal, prosecutors attempted to tack on two more misdemeanor charges to her case—pending a final ruling from a judge. Meanwhile, Ruelas and others were discovered to have regrouped as Taste of 209—despite the charges. (As strict as that law is, it seems she wasn’t too worried for her kids.)

“This amendment came after she asserted her right to a trial,” Ruelas’ public defender, Benjamin Hall, noted. “Obviously there needs to be food safety. On the other hand, this is not the kind of thing these laws were meant to go after. They were intended for people who build restaurants and don’t obtain permits,” Hall added. “And it’s not that situation. It’s a community of people joined by food.”

“It would be negligent for our office to ignore it,” Supervising Deputy District Attorney Robert Himelblau said during a November 9 press conference in Stockton. “We did not send anybody out there to go hunt people down. We are not trying to prevent people from cooking or sharing or potlucks or anything like that.”

Deputy Attorney Kelly McDaniel was conveniently not around to provide further information but defended the case in an interview with a television station. “I don’t write the laws, I enforce them and the Legislature has felt that this is a crime,” she said. “Food prepared in a facility that has not been inspected creates a risk to the public.”

[Source: TomoNews]

Since then, Ruelas seems firm on her stance. “I gave the same food away that I fed to my family—never would I bring them any harm.”

“This is something I did at most twice a month,” she said in an interview. “Like I told everybody else, I’m by myself. My kids go to four, different schools. This group was helpful for me. For those days where my mom has dialysis, you can say ‘Is anyone willing to trade? I’ll get you this weekend.’”

Because Ruelas lawyered up, McDaniel has now reduced punishment to the 80 hours of community service as part of a “plea in abeyance.” This also entailed all charges and sentencing being dismissed upon Ruelas abiding by the law for one year—she would have no record.

Amazingly, Ruelas refused to go along with this and insisted she and her friends are not running a business. Apparently, any money made was covering only the food costs.

Amid this food war, one thing’s for sure—a lot of fear and public tax dollars are being baked into this debacle. 

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