Two men have been indicted on charges that one of them urinated on food product at Monogram Foods in Martinsville while the other made a video that was used in an attempt to extort money from the company.
Maurice V. Howard and Devin Jamar Stockton, employees of the janitorial company that services Monogram’s plant, were indicted Aug. 8 for tampering with consumer products, conspiracy to tamper with consumer products and extortion.
A three-count indictment issued by a Federal Grand Jury in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Danville Division said that Stockton is alleged to have videotaped Howard urinating on food and on a door and doorjamb inside the Monogram manufacturing plant at 200 Knauss Drive in Martinsville on or about Feb. 21 and then attempted to extort money from Monogram and Packers Sanitation Services Inc. between March 1 and March 6.
The two men have been arrested and scheduled for trial in February in Danville.
An application for a search warrant filed Oct. 3 by FBI Special Agent Matthew S. Marlowe with the U.S. District Court Clerk’s Office in Roanoke linked the charges to an Apple iCloud account and describes how investigators used that account to build their cases against Howard and Stockton.
Marlowe asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert S. Ballou to require Apple to disclose the records and information of the customer of the account, stating there is “probable cause to believe ... tampering with consumer products and conspiracy to tamper with consumer products... have been committed by Maurice Howard.”
In his petition Marlowe wrote that the Henry County Sheriff’s Office had notified the FBI office in Lynchburg that “an unknown male filmed himself urinating on finished commercial food product that was intended to be shipped out for public consumption.”
The documents say the food product was a smoked sausage used in ready-to-eat meat snacks.
Pat Strickland, vice president of operations for Monogram Foods in Martinsville, said the company employs 630 people in three manufacturing centers on a 54-acre site at the Patriot Centre Industrial Park in Henry County.
“We produce jerky, pickled sausage and portable snacks,” he said.
“We have our own, very strong, food safety and quality assurance staff on site. We are USDA-inspected. We are subject to numerous audits by our manufacturing partners, people that we produce products for as well as food safety governing bodies.”
He referred questions about the specific product involved in the criminal complaint to the company’s corporate communications office in Memphis, Tenn., which did not respond to multiple messages.
Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said that “while they [FBI] are working it [the case], I would have to refer any questions to them.”
How the case evolved
Marlowe’s warrant application states that, on March 1, a supervisor for Packers Sanitation Services Inc. notified “Monogram management making them aware that... someone had urinated on food product.”
PSSI provides sanitation services onsite at the Monogram facility, and its personnel clean areas and machines that are used in the manufacturing process.
“They’re (PSSI) an independent contractor,” Strickland said.
On March 4 PSSI employee Devin Stockton, 29, told a supervisor that “another PSSI employee, Maurice Howard, 50, had a video of an individual urinating on food products” and “intended to extort money from Monogram and PSSI in exchange for the video,” Marlowe’s application says.
Monogram management told the PSSI supervisor to call Howard and ask for the video, and “Howard replied, ‘How much you gonna give me for it?’ and then ended the call,” Marlowe’s application says.
Howard went to the home of another PSSI supervisor on March 6 and is alleged to have said “he wanted to make sure he kept his job, and that he needed money if he was going to give anything up.”
Howard then showed the supervisor the video, claiming it was sent to him on Facebook Messenger and wasn’t him in the video, the court documents show.
Howard was arrested in South Carolina on March 25 on charges of violating a supervised release. He has a long criminal history dating back to 1988.
Court records show he was sentenced to 9 years in prison relating to a malicious wounding incident in January 1990. In 1997 he was convicted of assaulting a Martinsville police officer. He was charged with abduction by force/intimidation relating to an incident in December 2017 in Henry County and convicted of a reduced charge of assault and sentenced to 12 months, with 6 months suspended.
According to court records Howard appeared March 26 before Magistrate Judge Kevin McDonald in Greenville, S.C., where he waived reading of charges, penalties and a bond hearing. McDonald signed a commitment order that same day ordering Howard be transferred to the Western Virginia Regional Jail in Salem.
Devin Stockton was charged with four counts of selling cocaine in November and on May 9 was convicted in Martinsville Circuit Court of three counts of distribution of a schedule I or II narcotic and sentenced to 5 years, all of it suspended on the condition he complete the Community Based Corrections System Program, agree to 3 years of supervision and 20 years of good behavior, according to court records.
Stockton was arrested on Aug 23 and released on a $15,000 unsecured bond in U.S. District Court, Roanoke Division. He is living with his mother and sister at 105 Massey Street in Martinsville, according to documents at the bond hearing.
A probation officer reported making a pretrial home contact on Aug. 27 to where Stockton is staying and finding ammunition lying on Stockton’s bedroom floor. “Found 7.62 x 39 ammunition. The defendant stated it was old a must have fallen out of the plastic bag that was near it,” according to the officer’s report.
A total of six rounds of ammunition were confiscated. “The defendant stated the ammunition was for an AK. He stated he had a license and worked at a pawn shop prior to his state felony conviction,” the officer wrote. “The ammunition was placed in a bag, sealed, and property receipt was given to the defendant.”
Arrest leads to iPhone…
When Howard was arrested in South Carolina, his Apple iPhone was seized, and that led to the foundation for the search warrant application.
“Investigators conducted a forensic exam and extraction of the digital data,” according to Marlowe. That’s when investigators discovered the Apple iCloud account.
Marlowe’s application said there were “two videos depicting urination inside the Monogram food plant filmed during the night of February 21, 2019 ... and the metadata suggests that this video was filmed using Howard’s iPhone.”
Both PSSI supervisors, whose names were not disclosed, identified Howard as the person appearing in the second video “in green rain gear urinating on a door jamb/threshold area in the Monogram facility,” the documents said.
On June 7 investigators discovered the two videos on the phone were no longer there, the documents stated. Marlowe suggested the videos could have been deleted remotely through the iCloud account attached to the phone.
Trial date set
Howard and Stockton were indicted two months later, and a trial is set for Feb. 4-7 at U.S. District Court in Danville, said Brian McGinn, public affairs specialist with the United States Department of Justice.
“Other than that, there is not a whole lot to say,” he said.
Monica Cliatt, assistant federal public defender, has been appointed to represent Howard.
“We don’t have any comment yet,” she said.
Howard is already preparing his case. Court records include a letter dated Sept. 26 from Howard to John Swezey, a Martinsville attorney notifying Swezey, who had represented him, that he would be called as a character witness.
“I am charged with tampering with consumer products, arising from the video that I presented and forwarded to you to forward to PSSI, Monogram,” wrote Howard. “Also, being that you represented me with all proceedings with PSSI, Monogram lawyers, before federal charges was brought against me,” wrote Howard.
Michael Patrick Regan of Smith, Gambrell & Russell in Danville is representing Stockton. He has not responded to a request for comment.