A Massachusetts city suspended its inspector after it found that the inspector had been issuing phony ServSafe certificates to establishments. With this, the city's investigation found that these establishments were nasty with multiple sanitary violations including pests, improperly refrigerated TCS food items, and poor hand washing facilities. In addition, one facility was selling Viagra and synthetic marijuana.
City shuts second bodega as food-safety investigation widens
Owner also charged with selling Viagra
By Keith Eddings firstname.lastname@example.org
6 hrs ago
LAWRENCE -- The city has shut a second bodega in a widening crackdown on food-service establishments that began last week amid allegations that a code inspector was selling phony food-safety certificates for as much as $450.
A team of inspectors swept into La Vecina Meat Market at 202 Broadway Tuesday afternoon after police Officer Kevin Schiavone alerted them to several food, fire and building code violations while investigating a tip that the bodega was selling Viagra and synthetic marijuana.
Police charged the owner, Carmen Quiles, with selling Viagra, a regulated pharmaceutical, and charged the store's manager, whom they would not name, with selling synthetic marijuana, a controlled substance.
Food inspector Valda Miller found a much longer list of violations, including an infestation of rodents, filthy showcases and coolers, an “offensive odor” in a walk-in freezer, cooked ham stored with raw chicken, stagnant water in food containers, rusty shelves, no hand soap or towels in the bathroom and a counter around the cash register that she said was a “total mess.”
The bodega's common victualler's license, which is needed to sell prepared food, also was expired.
Fire inspector James Driscoll found other violations at La Vecina – the words translate to “the neighbor” -- including improper storage of combustible material, poorly maintained cooking equipment, exits and aisles blocked by debris and stored products, out-of-date fire extinguishers, internal locks on doors that would impede escape during an emergency and “open pits” in the basement.
Quiles could not be reached for comment.
Assistant City Attorney Brian Corrigan, who accompanied the inspectors to the bodega, said the violations were apparent even to someone not trained in food handling or building safety.
“Immediately, as soon as I walked in – not even being an expert – I could see that there were numerous violations,” Corrigan said.
La Vecina is the second bodega shut by the city since Friday, when inspectors shut the Noelia bodega on East Haverhill Street after Miller found a phony ServSafe certificate inside. The certificates, which are issued by the National Restaurant Association, certify that an employee certified in safe food handling practices is inside whenever the business is open.
Mayor Daniel Rivera put code inspector Jorge De Jesus, who issued the certificate, on paid leave, and Inspectional Services Director Pat Ruiz has begun a review of all 170 ServSafe certificates De Jesus issued in the city. Corrigan said De Jesus may have been selling the certificates for as much as $450.
At La Vecina, Quiles and two employees had the ServSafe certificates, but Corrigan said Quiles could not say when she took the course and the test required to obtain hers. Ruiz confiscated the certificates.
As part of the investigation, the city since Friday has found 50 bodegas, restaurants and other food-service establishments have common victualler licenses that have expired. Ruiz said 10 have renewed their licenses since Friday and said those that don't will be closed.