By Jeb Inge
FRONT ROYAL -- A Maryland man facing 10 counts of selling tainted meat in his Front Royal store pleaded guilty Tuesday in Warren County Circuit Court as part of a plea agreement that saw his charges downgraded from felonies to misdemeanors.
As a result of the Alford plea deal, Judge Dennis L. Hupp sentenced Rodney L. Cole Sparks, 55, of Monrovia, Md., to 60 months of incarceration, all suspended, a $2,500 fine, and two years of unsupervised probation.
By entering an Alford guilty plea, Sparks maintains his innocence, but admits sufficient evidence exists with which the prosecution could likely convince a judge or jury to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Sparks, represented by lawyer Bradley Pollack, appeared before Hupp to accept the agreement with Commonwealth's Attorney Brian Madden. For most of the proceedings against Sparks, the defendant retained no counsel, electing instead for self-representation.
In previous proceedings, Sparks told Hupp that he could not afford an attorney, an allegation that Hupp disputed in his ruling that Sparks would not receive a public defender.
The case against Sparks stemmed from allegations in 2012 that he was selling adulterated meat at his Front Royal business, Rodney's Discount Foods at 654 W. 11th St. The allegations were manifested in a criminal complaint signed by F.C. Lamneck, an enforcement officer with the state's Office of Meat and Poultry Services in Harrisonburg.
In the report, Lamneck alleged finding the meat being sold at Sparks' store as "temperature abused, freezer burned, putrid, decomposed, unsound, unhealthful, unwholesome and (appearing) unfit for human food." The complaint accused Sparks of having procured the putrid meat from a Food Lion Dumpster in Berryville. The complaint listed 10 separate dates for the offenses spanning a period from Aug. 19 to Jan. 29.
It was for those 10 offenses that Sparks pleaded guilty Tuesday.
Sparks defended himself against the allegations, which he called a campaign of harassment.
In an August 2012 interview with the Northern Virginia Daily, Sparks openly admitted taking meat from Dumpsters for the 50 to 75 cats at his Monrovia, Md., home.
"I never denied that I Dumpster-dived for my cats," Sparks said.
But Sparks was adamant that the meat sold in his store did not come from Dumpsters, claiming instead that it was given or sold to him at a steep discount by employees and managers at supermarkets who were cleaning out their meat sections.
He also cited the proceedings against him as the harbinger of a decline in business for his store, which he claimed was the commonwealth's intention.
Hupp reminded Sparks during the sentencing that if during his unsupervised probation he was found to be selling adulterated or mislabeled meat, he would lose his business license immediately and face possible prosecution.
Contact Region Editor Jeb Inge at 540-465-5137 ext. 186, or firstname.lastname@example.org