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Shipley, son get probation

After a three-year federal investigation Robert A. Shipley of Nogales, and his son, Lee Alan Shipley, were each sentenced on Monday, to four years' probation for conspiracy and false reporting to the United States government.

In addition, over $2.7 million dollars were forfeited and both had to pay a $250 fine, said Robert Shipley, in a telephone interview Wednesday. He added that the 66 counts of the original indictment were dismissed.

The investigation was conducted among the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Attorney and U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"In the beginning they (the federal government) seized the money," Shipley said, adding that "we tried to get it back, but as part of the plea agreement, we had to agree not to go after the money with lawyers."

In August 2004, both pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to commit an offense against the U.S., for importing merchandise contrary to law in August 2004.

According to the U.S. Attorney's office, the Shipleys were convicted for failure to "maintain and render for examination business records pertaining to the importation of produce" when requested by U.S. government officials, which is a violation of customs importing and record keeping laws.

Robert Shipley owns Shipley Sales, which has been operating in Nogales since 1957. His son, Lee Alan Shipley is the export manager of the Mexican growing area S.P.R. de R.I. Legumbrera San Luis in Altamirano, Guerrero, Mexico.

The Legumbrera growing area exported produce to Shipley Sales. Robert Shipley also imported produce from the firm S.P.R. de R.I. Los Arroyos, near Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico.

In June 2001, the defendants could not provide Mexican documentation for inspection when requested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In November 2002, the Arizona District U.S. Attorney's office announced a 66-count indictment alleging the Shipleys submitted false invoices to the federal government and misrepresented their cantaloupe supplier.

All cantaloupes imported from Mexico had been banned the previous month. A Salmonella outbreak had been traced back to some Mexican melons.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, salmonella are a group of bacteria that cause diarrheal illness in humans. Salmonella are usually transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces.

Shipley said his company did not import contaminated cantaloupes.

Before the indictments, Shipley Sales had been the largest cantaloupe importer in Nogales and now imports asparagus and honeydew melons.

He added that the forfeiture and indictment "weren't the best publicity," but "most of our customers stayed with us," and that "business has continued uninterrupted" over the last three years.

In a 20-page plea agreement, the defendants admitted that in May 2001 they had knowingly not kept Mexican documentation showing the source of the produce.

Another part of the plea agreement was that Robert Shipley forfeit more than $2.7 million to the United States. In November 2002 this forfeiture representing proceeds obtained directly or indirectly derived from produce illegally imported by the defendants between April 17 and May 24, 2001.

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