The Arizona Republic
Jun. 30, 2006 12:00 AM
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office on Thursday filed criminal complaints of failure to meet health code standards against an Asian supermarket and two Mexican restaurants, including a popular Central Phoenix eatery.
“Establishments that ignore repeated warnings and citations for food safety violations need to understand they will now face criminal charges for endangering the public,” County Attorney Andrew Thomas said. “Repeat violators literally make us sick.”
County investigators targeted Ajo Al’s at 5101 N. 16th St. after several customers came down with a food-borne illness called shigellosis. The illness, which has symptoms including diarrhea and fever, can be spread by food handlers who don’t wash their hands.
Ajo Al’s and its owners were charged with four counts of failure to comply with Maricopa County Health Code Regulations, which is a misdemeanor. The counts stemmed from an inspection in late May.
Robert Stratman, the central regional manager for the Maricopa County Environmental Services Department, said that Ajo Al’s has had numerous health code violations since September 2005.
The restaurant’s manager, Daniel Dains, said he was surprised by the charges and unsure why they were brought.
“This happened a month ago,” said Dains, adding that the violations had since been cleaned up, and the notice posted on the door by ESD had already been taken down.
Thomas was unimpressed.
“Even if they come into compliance now, as far as I’m concerned, that’s not good enough,” he said. “When you look at the history of alleged violations in these cases, criminal action is necessary and completely appropriate.”
Also charged were Lam’s Supermarket at 6740 W. Indian School Road, where inspectors found dead fish in the live fish tanks and dead clams for sale, among other infractions; and Tepic Restaurant at 3217 E. Van Buren St., where inspectors found grease, chemicals and roaches on food preparation surfaces, among other infractions.
Lam’s was charged with 17 counts of failure to comply with the health code and Tepic was charged with three. Michael Lam, owner of Lam’s said he had remodeled the store since buying it from a cousin in May; the infractions were noted in April.
“The market is under new ownership,” Lam said, “so whatever happened is from the prior owner.”
Tepic owner Juan Romero said his resident also is in compliance.
“It’s nothing,” he said, adding that he didn’t understand why he was being charged with criminal counts.
The charges are reminiscent of Thomas’ campaign last year to prosecute people who let their swimming pools turn green. Thomas has repeatedly said that public health is a matter of public safety.
All are misdemeanors that will be prosecuted in county justice courts, but Thomas said they are punishable by up to 30 days in jail.
“My instructions to prosecutors will be that we should be seeking some jail time,” Thomas said. “I think that these cases are so severe that it is appropriate to hold the owner accountable. I think a day or two in Tent City will get the attention of these folks.”