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This Halal Meat Scandal Is Served with a Side of Gun Smuggling

In the continuing saga of an Iowa-based halal meat supplier that has been accused of mislabeling meat, a new chapter has emerged. Prosecutors now say that the company is connected to a recent seizure of smuggled weapons that were possibly bound for...
Photo via Flickr user swamibu

Nothing soaks up a night of unfettered drinking quite like some kebab at 3 AM.

But you're probably a little too inebriated to remember the many controversies surrounding halal slaughter, or the mislabeling of supposedly halal meat. But if there's anything that might shock you into sobriety at this godforsaken hour, it's the suggestion that your shawarma might be tangentially connected to a weapons-smuggling scheme.

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As we previously reported, the Cedar Rapids-based halal supplier Midamar Corp. was indicted last year—along with its founder, Bill Aossey, Jr., his sons, and several other corporate executives—on multiple counts of fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy.

All of this arises in connection with the alleged sale of mislabeled halal meat to be exported to Malaysia, Indonesia, Kuwait, and other Muslim countries. The feds have accused Midamar of selling meat that was not slaughtered according to halal standards, but claimed it was. Trials are scheduled for the summer and early fall.

But things just got more complicated in the case of the mislabeled halal meats. And with the way the ongoing legal battle is panning out, things could be shaping up to take that already mysterious white sauce to Scrappy Doo-levels of intrigue.

There have been numerous twists in the Midamar case, but possibly the most bizarre was the recent seizure of a shipping container filled with firearms, possibly bound for Syrian rebels. According to the The Des Moines Register, the container was filled with household supplies, honey, clothes, a piano, and plastic bags labeled Pizza Daddy, but filled with firearms and ammunition. And lots of it: 152 guns and 16,300 rounds of ammunition.

The halal connection? Midamar acted as "export advisors" to the group that was sending those firearms to the Middle East.

Turns out that in addition to being a halal exporter, Midamar is also a logistics company that helps other companies export goods.

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Three US citizens and one legal permanent resident—all Midamar clients and fellow residents of Cedar Rapids—were charged with conspiracy and shipping firearms illegally. Brothers Ali Herz and Bassem Herz, along with Adam Herz and Sarah Zeaiter, all connected with the Herz Corporation, are now in federal custody.

Some of the shipments in question allegedly had the words "Midamar" and "Syria" on them. But Midamar's lawyer, Michael K. Lahammar, told MUNCHIES that Midamar had no liability in connection with the firearms investigation.

"The search was conducted as part of an investigation into Herz Corporation activities involving illegal international gun sales," Lahammar said via email. "[The] Chief Agent in charge, Michael Fischel, assured me that their investigation only involved Herz Corporation." In other words, Midamar claims that it only advised on the shipments and had no idea what was in them.

According to Lahammar, that sets aside the issue of complicity, but does it also clear Midamar of any negligence relating to the matter?

Apparently so, says Lahammer. "The companies that contract with Midamar for this [logistics] service are responsible for packing, labeling, and certifying the content of these shipments through documents such as a Bill of Lading. Midamar does not inspect nor inventory any of these shipments, nor are they required to do so. It is completely the responsibility of the contracting company, in this case Herz Corporation…"

No further charges have been brought against Midamar or anyone directly employed by the company in connection with the illegal arms shipment, although prosecutors hauled off computers and documents that belong to Midamar to further their investigation of Herz. Midamar is now claiming that the search violated their attorney-client privilege, as documents that they have a right to privacy in were taken.

So it's back to court for Midamar. In any event, it still faces upcoming trials in the case of the mislabeled meat. Chew on that at 3 AM—and remember that a kebab is not always just a kebab.