The owner of a raw food market in Venice has pleaded not guilty to charges of allegedly illegally selling goat milk, goat cheese and other products.
James Stewart, 64, the owner of Rawesome market in Venice, was arrested in a law enforcement raid on the business Aug. 3 and charged in a 13-count complaint, which includes four conspiracy counts, a Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokesperson said. Also charged in the complaint was Sharon Ann Palmer, 51, a Ventura County farmer, and one of her employees, Eugenie Bloch, 58, according to the district attorney’s office.
Prosecutors allege that Rawesome, a “members only” market which has been in operation for more than six years, has never had any type of business permit or license. Stewart, who owns and runs Rawesome, is facing 13 counts, according to the district attorney’s office.
Prosecutors additionally allege that Healthy Family Farms, LLC, in Santa Paula has operated without a license or permit for milk production since 2007.
Palmer, who owns Healthy Family Farms, is charged in nine of the 13 counts, while Bloch, who works for Palmer, is charged with three conspiracy counts, the district attorney spokesperson said.
It is lawful for businesses to manufacture and sell unpasteurized dairy products in California, but applicable licenses and permits are required.
The manufacture and sale of unpasteurized milk products can pose a risk of pathogenic contamination. According to prosecutors, pasteurization kills or slows the growth of pathogens and microbes, and the process must be accomplished according to state standards under sanitary conditions.
Investigators working undercover during the year-long investigation purchased unpasteurized dairy products, including goat milk, cheese and yogurt, from Healthy Family Farms stands at Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara county farmers markets and at Rawesome.
The investigation found that Healthy Family Farms and Rawesome customers were required to pay a membership fee of up to $50, or purchase a one-time “day pass” at Rawesome to purchase products there, the district attorney spokesperson said.
According to the complaint,an undercover investigator allegedly received goat milk, stored in a cooler in the back of a Healthy Family Farms van in the parking lot of a grocery store.
Among the numerous agencies involved in the ongoing investigation are the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; the California Franchise Tax Board; the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health; the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department; the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety.