Mass. meat company sues N.H. cattle, pig farmers

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WESTMORELAND, N.H. — Attorneys for Walden Local, a meat company in North Billerica, Mass., have filed a suit against a father and daughter alleging they bribed an employee of a Vermont slaughterhouse to falsify weight records.

According to documents filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont, Arthur Chickering III and his daughter, Suzanne Chickering, both of Westmoreland, conspired with Jeffrey Nichols, of Rutland, a lead cutter on the kill floor of Vermont Packinghouse in North Springfield "to falsify the weight records of the animals ..."

The changes allegedly made by Nichols resulted in an overpayment of "at least $173,976 to Suzanne Chickering for the meat itself and $49,492 to VPH for the processing of the meat in 2017 and 2018," notes the suit, which was filed last week.

Ritchie Berger, of the law firm Dinse in Burlington, is representing Suzanne Chickering.

"There is absolutely no factual basis for this lawsuit," Berger said. He had no other comment other than to say his response, to be filed in 60 days, will speak for itself.

The Reformer attempted to contact Arthur Chickering III, but his voicemail box had not been set up to take messages. The Reformer was unable to find contact information for Nichols.

"We filed a police report about the alleged fraud with the Springfield Police Department," said Arion Thiboumery, the general manager of the slaughterhouse. Vermont Packinghouse is not a party to the suit, he said. "We did receive some follow-up from the department, but that's all I know."

According to David J. Cahill, Windsor County State's Attorney, no criminal charges have been filed against the three at the state level regarding the alleged fraud.

According to court documents, "Suzanne Chickering is a farmer who is in the business of selling beef cows, hogs and other farm products. Arthur Chickering III is the father of Suzanne Chickering and her agent."

Neither have any connection to the Chickering Farm on Route 63 in Westmoreland, said Arthur "Jim" Chickering, the sole owner of Chickering Farm, which was placed into a conservation easement in March of this year.

Over a two-year period, from 2017 to 2018, wrote Cassandra LaRae-Perez, of Gravel & Shea PC in Burlington, representing Walden Local, the slaughterhouse processed beef and pork for the North Billerica meat company at an agreed upon per-pound price.

Thiboumery said Walden had separate contracts, one with the Chickerings to purchase the meat and another with VPH to process the meat.

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As part of the process, Arthur Chickering III regularly transported his daughter's livestock to the slaughterhouse where employees weighed the animals, determining the "live weight" at time of arrival. After slaughter and dressing and before cutting, the animals were weighed again, which is known as "hang weight."

"Nichols' primary job at all times relevant to this action was to slaughter livestock at VPH," wrote LaRae-Perez. "It was the job of another employee of VPH to weigh the animals and record the hang weights in a log book."

However, wrote LaRae-Perez, "After the employee responsible for weighing and recording the hang weight of the Chickering animals recorded the information, Defendant Nichols changed the handwritten records to reflect amounts greater than the actual weights shown on the scale."

LaRae-Perez wrote that Nichols also altered the live weight documents to correspond with the "amended" hang weights, all at the behest of Arthur Chickering III.

"Defendant Suzanne Chickering knew that Defendant Arthur Chickering was bribing Defendant Nichols to falsify the weight records to reflect weights that were higher than actual weights of the animals that she was delivering to VPH," wrote LaRae-Perez, who alleged Suzanne Chickering invoiced VPH based on the fraudulent weights.

LaRae-Perez also wrote that Nichols bribed other VPH employees "to conceal his actions."

"As soon as we learned of the alleged fraud, we terminated [Nichols]," said Thiboumery. Nichols was fired on Nov. 8, 2018. Thiboumery took actions to prevent something similar from happening again, including replacing hand-written documents with a digital system.

"We are a fee-for-service processor. We don't own the meat," said Thiboumery. VPH contracts with Black River Meats, also in North Springfield, and 300 other providers, big and small, he said.

"We have been very cooperative. We take this very seriously," said Thiboumery, adding Walden Local remains one of its customers.

Thibourmey had no comment on how VPH resolved any overpayments it received from Walden Local as a result of the alleged fraud. He also had no comment on LaRae-Perez's contention that Nichols bribed other VPH employees.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151,

or raudette@reformer.com.


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