Couple charged in poisoning of food at Mexican eatery that sickened dozens


KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When the pesticide methomyl is sprayed
on crops, farm workers aren’t supposed to step back into the fields for up to a

It’s dangerous, potentially deadly stuff and, according to
federal prosecutors, it is the poison a Shawnee, Kan., couple chose to exact
revenge against one of the owners of the Mi Ranchito restaurant in Lenexa, Kan.

On Thursday, federal prosecutors accused former restaurant
employees Arnoldo Bazan and his wife, Yini De La Torre — niece of the
restaurant co-founder — of mixing the pesticide into salsa Aug. 30 and sending
at least a dozen people to the hospital.

Bazan, 30, and De La Torre, 19, each face one count of
conspiring to recklessly endanger other people by conspiring to tamper with a
consumer product. They also are charged with two counts of tampering with a
consumer product.

Prosecutors allege the couple poisoned the salsa to make
customers sick so the restaurant would be blamed and hurt financially.

Methomyl is a hard-to-get pesticide used for commercial
fruit, vegetable and cotton crops. It can be purchased and used only by
certified professionals

“It’s not like you, me or John Doe can go and get
it,” said Tama Sawyer, director of the University of Kansas Hospital’s
Poison Control Center.

Sawyer said 7.5 small drops of undiluted methomyl can be
lethal. She said she had not seen a case of exposure to the pesticide in the 20
years she had worked at the center.

In a statement released Thursday, federal authorities laid
out the case this way:

Bazan worked at Mi Ranchito until June 27. He blamed the
restaurant’s owner for the loss of his job and vehicle.

In July, an anonymous note was sent to Mi Ranchito’s Web
site threatening harm if Bazan didn’t get his vehicle back.

On Aug. 11, De La Torre added methomyl to salsa, authorities
allege, and a day later customers started getting sick.

A little more than two weeks later, Bazan sent word to the
owner through an intermediary that “the worst” was yet to come.

On Aug. 30, authorities allege, his wife mixed more methomyl
into salsa. Three dozen customers fell ill with nausea, sweating, weakness and
cramps, and at least a dozen were rushed to the hospital.

De La Torre told reporters that day that the salsa was the
source of the problem. That was her last day at the restaurant.

A little more than a week later, Bazan told her not to talk
to investigators or she would be physically harmed, authorities said.

Restaurant co-founder Rulber De La Torre, uncle of Yini De
La Torre, said the bad publicity from the incidents had hurt him much worse
than the economy.

“I gotta tell you, this is the closest I’ve ever been
to going out of business,” he said.

The charges announced Thursday were a “huge
relief,” he said. “Justice is the best thing that could have happened
to me. We’re coming back fast.”

A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Lanny Welch said Bazan was in
custody on another charge he could not specify. He said De La Torre would

Via McClatchy-Tribune News Service.