The defendants are accused of labeling the honey as coming from other countries to avoid paying import fees. The charges also allege the honey was tainted with antibiotics.
Ten of the individuals were top executives of corporate defendant Alfred L. Wolff GmbH and four affiliated defendant companies, a German food conglomerate whose United States honey-importing business was based in Chicago, a U.S. Attorney's Office press release said. Between 2002 and 2009, the defendants allegedly conspired to import more than $40 million of Chinese-origin honey to avoid antidumping duties totaling nearly $80 million, authorities allege.
The 44-count indictment does not allege any instances of illness or other public health consequences attributed to consumption of the honey.
Two of the defendants, Stefanie Giesselbach, 32, and Magnus von Buddenbrock, 35, both former executives of Alfred L. Wolff , Inc., the Chicago-based U.S. affiliate of the German corporation, were arrested in Chicago before leaving the country in May 2008 and are reportedly cooperating with investigators. Along with two other defendants originally from China who previously pleaded guilty in the case, the investigation has netted 15 suspects, authorities say.
Authorities say 2,441 drums of honey have been seized by the United States from storage facilities in Tacoma, Wash.; Minneapolis and Eagan, Minn.; and the Chicago suburbs of Bensenville, Glenview and Itasca.