The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 17, 2012

Gibbon dairy farm operators facing criminal charges

Several don't show for May hearing

By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — Southern Minnesota dairy farmers who faced civil sanctions for repeatedly ignoring court orders to stop selling unpasteurized milk products are now facing misdemeanor charges in criminal court.

A gross misdemeanor charge of selling improperly labeled dairy products and several misdemeanor charges have been filed against the owners of Hartmann Dairy Farm in Gibbon.

 The eight misdemeanor charges include the illegal sale of unpasturized dairy products, including milk and cheese; illegal sale of adulterated or improperly labeled food; selling food without a license; and operating a dairy plant without a permit.

Michael Otto Hartmann, 59, and his wife, Dianne Marcella Hartmann, 59, were scheduled to appear May 3 in Sibley County District Court. Michael Hartman was released on his own recognizance after his hearing. His wife wasn’t there, court records said. Donald Lannoye, Sibley County Attorney, said there was some discussion between Michael Hartmann and District Court Judge Richard Perkins about whether Hartmann could appear for his wife.

The same charges have also been filed against Michael Hartmann’s 56-year-old brother, Roger Dennis Hartmann of Gibbon, and alleged business associate Linda Schultz, 68, of Minneapolis. The charges were filed by the Sibley County attorney at the request of James Roettger, a compliance officer with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Roger Hartmann and Schultz also failed to appear May 3, according to court records. Lannoye said warrants have been issued for their arrest.

Roettger also is alleging that the Hartmanns continue to distribute their products even though they have received court-approved orders to stop.

The Hartmann Dairy Farm was searched by law enforcement officers and agriculture department inspectors in May 2010 after products from the farm were linked to E. coli and other illnesses. Investigators reported finding poor sanitary conditions, packaged cheese and other dairy products that weren’t labeled properly, milk that hadn’t been pasteurized, and meat that had been packaged without an inspection stamp or a label saying it hadn’t been inspected.

When the dairy plant was searched again a month later, investigators found more improperly labeled milk and sanitary conditions that hadn’t improved. The Hartmanns were ordered to stop selling their dairy products.

A second round of food-borne illnesses was linked to the dairy the following October. Investigators reported the illnesses, found in several people during July and August, were the same as some illness strains that had been found before the May search.

Another inspection showed the Hartmanns were still distributing their dairy products.

“Inspectors noted little or no discernible improvement in the sanitary condition of the barn and dairy plant,” the criminal complaint said.

Schultz is facing charges because she was allegedly coordinating a system of “drop sites” for people who were buying Hartmann Dairy Farm products. The charges against her are based on a search of computer taken during one of the searches at the dairy.

“Recent information establishes that Linda Schultz now accepts all orders for Hartmann products as the ‘drop site coordinator’ and aids in the distribution of this product,” the complaint said. “Email from Linda Schultz, on behalf of the Hartmanns, indicates that the Hartmanns are continuing to operate in violation of the commissioner’s final orders and at serious risk to public health.”