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First Contested Case Under N.j. Kosher Consumer Fraud Law

The owner of a kosher butcher shop in Springfield, N.J. said today his firm would plead not guilty to the first formal complaint by the New Jersey State Division of Consumer Affairs alleging violations of the State’s kosher product regulations which became effective last April.

The complaint was filed for Attomey General Irwin Kimmelman in Union County Superior Court in Elizabeth on August 2, according to James Barry, director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs. A trial date has not yet been set.

ELEMENTS IN THE COMPLAINT

The complaint charged that David Neugroschel, individually, and trading as Lempert, Cohen, M.** M. Company of Springfield, violated the state Consumer Fraud Act and the regulations on representations about and requirements for the sale of kosher products.

The complaint also charged that the Lempert, Cohen shop had in its possession with the intent to sell meat which had not been prepared and maintained in compliance with the laws of Kashrut, despite advertising representing that the shop sold exclusively kosher meat under rabbinic supervision.

Asked how he planned to respond to the charges, Neugroschel told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency by telephone today that he intended to plead not guilty when the charges come up for trial.

THE LAW HAS A CHECKERED HISTORY

The law has a slightly checkered history. It was first signed in 1977 by then Governor Brendan Byrne but that measure had two flaws, the JTA was told. It made such offenses criminal acts but made no provision for enforcement machinery and it failed to appropriate funds to implement it.

Rabbi Pesach Levovitz of Lakewood, N.J. brought the problem of the lack of funding, which made the new law a dead letter, to the attention of State Sen. John Russo (D. Ocean) who sponsored a bill, which was passed, to fund the moribund law. It became effective last April 2 after being signed by Governor Thomas Kean. Levovitz is chairman of the advisory committee to the Attorney General on the kosher food law.

The complaint charged that last April 29, Neugroschel had in his kosher butcher shop two plastic bags each containing about 20 to 25 pounds of ground meat and visible quantities of blood and that each plastic bag was in a separate pan containing about an inch-and-a-half of blood.

The complaint declared a state witness will testify at the trial that the amount of blood in the packages and trays was contrary to the laws of kashrut.

The complaint charged that Neugroschel’s possession of such presumably non-kosher meat could be considered presumptive evidence that he possessed it to sell it and that this consituted use of an unconscionable commercial practice, deception, fraud, false pretense or misrepresentation.

The complaint — brought for Kimmelman by Deputy Attorney General Cindy Miller — will ask the court to assess civil penalties in the amount of $2,000 for each violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and to direct Neugroshchel to pay state costs of investigation and prosecution.

TWO PREVIOUS ACTIONS

In two previous actions under the new law, offending kosher markets did not challenge the charges but chose to agree to consent orders not to sell admittedly non-kosher foods, paying fines and/or litigation costs.

A small kosher butcher in Linden agreed to not continue selling non-kosher chicken as kosher and paid a $1,000 fine for a civil offense, shortly after the law took effect, Barry said.

A major offense involved the Allwood Kosher Meat and Poultry Market of Clifton, whose partners signed an administrative action consent order, filed April 25, admitting to 421 violations of the Consumer Fraud Act, after a routine inspection by the kosher foods inspection unit of the division.

The Clifton store agreed to pay a $3,000 fine and to pay the state $500 for investigation and prosecution. Barry said the store owners admitted the possession of 280 non-kosher chickens, 100 non-kosher chicken breasts, 35 non-kosher turkeys, three packages of non-kosher beef liver and three containers of non-kosher chicken liver.

The partners agreed to stop selling the non-kosher products as kosher, and to remove them from their butcher shop. A division spokesman told the JTA that the partners paid the fine and did remove the non-kosher foods from their butcher shop. The spokesman said that, under the new law, the division inspects stores and restaurants throughout New Jersey which advertise availability of kosher foods, and sets a penalty if foods thus represented are found to be non-kosher.

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