A British national who resided in Venice was sentenced Friday, April 1st, to five years in federal prison after admitting that he sent several adulterated food items — including baby formula contaminated with boric acid — to the Ralphs grocery chain and demanded $180,000 to prevent poisoned food from being placed on store shelves, according to federal Department of Justice spokesman Thom Mrozek of the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.
David Ian Dickinson, 43, was sentenced April 1st in Los Angeles by U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson.
Dickinson pleaded guilty November 30th last year to charges of extortion and tampering with consumer products, Mrozek says.
During the sentencing hearing, Judge Pregerson found that Dickinson’s scheme was sophisticated and that he used baby food to invoke a greater sense of panic.
Agreeing with comments made by the defendant, Judge Pregerson said Dickinson had “committed a villainous act.”
The court also said that the extortion scheme was a “close cousin to terrorism Ö. You threatened to tamper with the food supply,” the judge told Dickinson.
According to court documents on February 25th last year, Dickinson sent four adulterated food items to the corporate headquarters of Ralphs.
The package contained a note stating, “This is a blackmail demand pass to persons able to deal with such matter. Keep out.”
In addition to the poisoned baby formula, the package contained a jar of horseradish contaminated with boric acid, a jar of baby food with glass shards and an infant juice drink laced with hydraulic fluid.
While Dickinson threatened to place contaminated and dangerous food products on store shelves, there is no evidence that he actually followed through on the threat, according to Mrozek.
In the letter to Ralphs, Dickinson demanded money and stated that failure to follow the demands would result in a wide range of tampered foods being placed into the food supply.
On March 1st last year, Dickinson sent a second letter to Ralphs headquarters, demanding that $180,000 be placed into an account and that Ralphs distribute 9,000 debit cards that could be used to access the account.
The extortionist demanded that the debit cards be distributed at Ralphs stores in Santa Monica, San Diego and San Ramon.
The letter further demanded that an advertisement for a “German tuba” be placed in the March 25th issue of the Los Angeles Recycler, and instructed that the PIN number to access the $180,000 be listed as the tuba’s model number.
Ralphs personnel subsequently placed the ad in the Recycler and established an account in which they deposited $180,000.
Pursuant to the demands made in the letter, Ralphs began distributing the 9,000 debit cards on the afternoon of March 26th.
A surveillance team at the Ralphs in Santa Monica noticed a man on a bicycle who resembled the person seen on a surveillance video taken at a Venice Post Office when the package containing the contaminated food items was sent to Ralphs.
The man made a small purchase in the Ralphs store and he received a debit card.
On May 5th, special agents with the FBI did a search warrant at Dickinson’s residence and found a yellow jacket and other clothing items Dickinson was wearing when he mailed the tainted food products to Ralphs.
Investigators also found drafts of the extortion letter on his computer.
At that time, Dickinson said he attempted to extort Ralphs to obtain money to pay for his five-month-old son’s college education, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Government officials said the ability to capture Dickinson was the result of an investigation by the FBI and the federal Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations, which received assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.