FBI: Man, 68, Hid Sewing Needles In Packaged Meat

Suspect said he did tampering "just for the hell of it"

Pork Chop

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Needles Hidden In Meat

JULY 31---For more than a year, an elderly Illinois man who carried a portable oxygen tank and rode around in a motorized scooter allegedly put sewing needles inside packaged meat sold at a Shop ‘n Save grocery store, according to the FBI.

When Ronald Avers, 68, was confronted by investigators Tuesday in a store near his Belleville residence, he reportedly copped to the meat tampering. Claiming that he inserted the sewing needles “just for the hell of it,” Avers told agents that, “it was stupidity, I didn’t want to hurt nobody.”

Remarkably, though the tampering spanned almost 14 months, Shop ‘n Save officials only first contacted law enforcement about the needles earlier this month, according to the seven-count felony complaint sworn by FBI Agent Daniel Cook.

Avers is charged with with sticking needles in meat packages on seven separate occasions beginning last May. Six of the needles were discovered by customers and one was spotted by a Shop ‘n Save employee at the North Belt West Road store.

In January, a customer “found the sewing needle in her mouth while eating” boneless chuck roast purchased at Shop ‘n Save. In June, a customer reported that they were stuck in the hand by a needle that had been placed in a steak.

Asked about the failure to timely disclose the tampering to law enforcement officials, Jeff Swanson, a spokesperson for the grocery chain’s parent company, Supervalu, said that the firm detected “no initial pattern or frequency” to the tampering. This claim is directly contradicted by the FBI affidavit. Asked whether the delay in contacting criminal investigators was because the company feared bad publicity and decreased business, Swanson said, “The safety of customers is a top priority.”

Shop ‘n Save, Agent Cook reported, conducted an internal investigation of the tampering incidents and identified an elderly white male as a possible suspect. The man--who was seen carrying an oxygen tank and using a motorized scooter inside the Belleville store--was seen on surveillance footage frequently handling meat packages that he would not purchase. Cook noted that footage appeared to show the man “insert something into packaged meats on several occasions.”

On Tuesday, when the suspect--later identified as Avers--arrived at the Belleville store, security personnel called the FBI. Agents approached Avers, who agreed to a search of his pick-up truck. After investigators located an “open package of sewing needles” in the vehicle’s center console, Avers claimed that he used the needles to “sew tears in his pants when he goes camping.”

Avers, Cook reported, later confessed to the tampering. “Every now and then I would stick one in a hamburger,” he told agents. “A couple of times I did it with a roast, maybe a pork chop every now and then.” Avers said that he would “conceal the sewing needle in his portable oxygen tank holder, enter the Shop ‘n Save grocery store, and insert the sewing needle into a packaged meat product.”

During an appearance today at U.S. District Court in East St. Louis, Illinois, a federal magistrate ordered Avers locked up in advance of an August 4 detention hearing. (6 pages)