For fourteen months, an elderly Illinois man has been sticking sewing needles into packaged meat at a Belleville, Illinois, Shop 'n Save, according to FBI investigators.
Ronald Avers, 68, was jailed without bond Thursday on seven counts of tampering with meat. Each charge is punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
FBI investigators busted Avers in the parking lot of the Shop 'n Save, where they found an open package of needles in his Ford F250 pickup truck with a Illinois disabled veteran license plate. Avers first told police he used the needles to sew up tears in his pants when he goes camping, according to court documents.
But when investigators pressed him about the grocery store meat, he admitted to sticking a few needles where they didn't belong.
"Every now and then, I would stick one in a hamburger...mostly hamburger, a couple times I did it with a roast, maybe a pork chop every now and then," Avers told police, according to court documents.
Avers, who uses a motorized scooter and a portable oxygen tank, says he would hide the needle in his oxygen-tank holder, enter the North Belt West Road store and insert the needle into some meat.
"It was stupidity, I didn't want to hurt nobody." Avers told police, according to court documents. He added that he knew hiding needles in meat was a "stupid idea," and that he did it "for the hell of it."
At least one customer reported being stuck in the mouth and one in the hand by needles hidden in packaged meat from the Belleville store. Six customers and an employee reported finding needles in meat over the last fourteen months, according to court documents: - A customer with the initials K.C. found a needle in a package of ground beef bought in May 2013. - A Shop 'n Save employee found a needle sticking out of a package of pork chops in September 2013. - A customer with the initials C.T. found a needle in a package of ground beef in October 2013. - L.T. found a needle in her mouth while eating boneless chuck roast purchased from the store in January 2014. - L.M. found a needle in a roast purchased in March 2014. - J.B. was stuck in the hand by a needle in a steak purchased in June 2014. - G.S. reported finding a needle in pork steaks purchased in July 2014.
Grocery security used surveillance cameras to find out who was leaving needles in the meat. They identified an elderly man in a motorized scooter carrying an oxygen tank who would manipulate packaged meat on several different occasions without actually buying any. When that suspect, later identified as Avers, came to the store on July 29, law enforcement arrived and searched his car, finding the needles.
Avers told police he only tampered with meat at the Belleville store.
Avers has a hearing in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen C. Williams Monday morning.