This story has been updated with statements from Lonnie Copeland. See below:
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel filed a consumer protection lawsuit today against Lonnie's Meat Market and Catering, Inc., and the business owner, Lonnie Copeland.
The Attorney General's office released information that alleges the butcher shop - with locations in Conway and Heber Springs - sold adulterated ground beef and lamb.
According to a release, "The lawsuit against Lonnie’s Meat Market and Catering, Inc. and its owner, Lonnie Copeland, contends Copeland mixed ground beef into products that he sold and labeled as ground lamb, in violation of the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. This came after Copeland entered into an agreement with the Attorney General to cease the practice of including beef heart in the ground beef he sold."
The lawsuit states USDA investigators found components of ground beef in a package of ground lamb at Lonnie's Meat Market, 705 Club Lane, in Conway.
The office maintains Copeland intermingled beef with lamb to decrease his costs.
Copeland also faces allegations he is in violation of an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance with McDaniel and the AG office because he had previously agreed to stop using beef heart in ground beef products, according to the AG office.
"The Attorney General sought the AVC after learning that USDA investigators had found beef heart meat in five of the nine samples of ground beef, ground chuck and ground sirloin they had taken from his stores. Heart meat, which is classified by the USDA as an unacceptable ingredient in ground beef, was found in four ground beef samples and one ground sirloin sample," the release states.
Copeland acknowledged he had been using beef heart in his ground beef, but pledged to stop, according to the release.
Under the terms of the Assurance of Voluntary Compliance, Copeland was advised he would be fined $25,000 if a court found he further violated the Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
McDaniel's lawsuit seeks the $25,000 and an injunction to prohibit Lonnie's Meat Market from adulterating or misbranding meat.
The suit also seeks civil penalties and attorneys' fees and costs.
The lawsuit was filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court.
Copeland did not return phone calls and messages seeking comment by press time Monday.
Monday evening, he submitted these statements via e-mail:
“We understand from the press that the Attorney General has filed a lawsuit against Lonnie’s Meat Market, but have not seen the actual Complaint. We understand that the Complaint centers on an inspection occurring in 2013 in which it is claimed that ground beef was added to ground lamb. If we are correct in our understanding, these allegations are disputed and This Did Not Occur.
Lonnie’s Meat Market intends to defend this lawsuit and dispute the claims against it. However, because this matter is now in litigation, we have been instructed by our counsel to make no further statements.”
In light of the Assurance of Voluntary Compliance (AVC) nothing good can come out of further discussions.