A 28-year-old man was sentenced to 4 ½ years in federal prison for putting undesirable items into sausage links at a Johnsonville Sausage factory.
Jonathan T. Lane, had just started on the quality control line a few weeks prior to the investigation, said he just wanted to go home early. This is why he slipped a “cigarette paper” into a few sausage links one day at the Sheboygan Falls plant, and a piece of wire three days later. He then pulled them from the production line and alerted supervisors, causing a shutdown.
The plant noted that “No contaminated products ever left the factory.”
Lane pleaded guilty to one count of tampering with a food product, with “reckless disregard for the risk of injuring or killing another person.”
U.S. District Judge Pamela Pepper said that it was much more likely Lane was “trying to be seen as a hero,” based on his own statement that “no one ever told him he was doing a good job at anything after his mother died in 2015.
"I always feel unappreciated, and fearful that I'll mess up," Lane told Judge Pepper during his apology statement.
Judge Pepper pointed out that there are much easier (and more ethical) ways to leave work early. She cited that in one instance, Lane actually had to stay longer than his intended shift, after he flagged one of the affected sausage links.
"I think this goes far beyond doing something stupid," she said, adding that his reckless conduct created the potential for the contaminated sausages to make it to some consumer's plate.
In addition to the prison sentence, Judge Pepper mandated three years of supervised release. Pepper also ordered Lane to get a mental health evaluation. Furthermore, he has to pay over $42,000 to Johnsonville for the products it discarded after worries of Lane's damage.
But this isn’t Lane’s first time in court. He has already been jailed six months.
In a sentencing memo, Ronnie V. Murray, Lane's attorney, noted that Lane suffers from "PTSD, ADHD, depressive disorder and liver disease, all of which contribute to Jonathan’s history of cognitive dysfunction and poor decision-making."
According to the defense team, these diseases got Lane in trouble for nonviolent, nuisance-type crimes. "He now finds himself in the most trouble he’s ever been in.”
Murray cited Lane's mental challenges, including circumstantial challenges including times of homelessness, as well as his remorse for the sausage scheme and the fact he has a good job waiting for him at a tractor factory. This is why Murray recommended a sentence no longer than six months in prison, plus three years of supervision.
He said, "All of the contributing factors to Jonathan’s poor judgment and decision-making can be treated, but more effectively so in the community rather than prison.”
But the government urged a seven-year prison term.
While Lane is arguably a sympathetic defendant, he had had probation revoked before for lesser state offenses, and called him dangerous.
According to a company statement, Lane was not employed directly by Johnsonville but through a staffing agency that works with the sausage-maker.
They added that, however, “workers, whether they are employed directly by Johnsonville or through one of our staffing partners — as was this situation involving Mr. Lane — are held accountable to meet our quality standards and follow our company code of conduct. Failure to do so can result in corrective action or termination of employment.”