The feds came for Amish salve maker Sam Girod this morning, hauling him off to jail, where he very well could spend the rest of his life.
Nearly a year ago, I wrote about Girod’s legal problems with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and how they worsened significantly over several years of regulatory tussles, to the point he was facing criminal charges carrying penalties of up to 48 years in prison.
The immediate cause of Girod’s arrest today was his failure to appear last August at a status conference on his case. Apparently because he had been released from jail on his own recognizance, in advance of his trial, he was required to appear personally at every hearing.
The arrest was first reported on Facebook by food and health activist Sally O’Boyle (better known as Sally Oh).
At a hearing this afternoon at a U.S. District Court in Lexington, KY, a prosecutor accused him of failing to appear for the August hearing. Girod, who represented himself, said he understood that an appeal he filed to a U.S. Appeals Court on one aspect of his case had placed the entire case in abeyance. The judge didn’t buy in, and ordered that Girod remain in jail until the trial begins in late February. There was also talk in comments by supporters at Sally Oh’s Facebook post, that the local sheriff in Girod’s county had failed to follow through on a commitment to challenge federal authorities who might come looking for the Amish salve maker.
Complicating the case further is the fact that Girod apparently separated from his lawyer some months ago. According to a friend of Girod’s, he became disillusioned and upset when the lawyer sought to negotiate a potential plea deal with prosecutors.
As in many plea deals, the arrangement had Girod spending a reduced amount of time in jail compared to what a judge might sentence him to if he were convicted in trial. According to the friend, “Sam kept asking, ‘What is the purpose of having a lawyer if he wanted me to take a deal, and not go to trial?’ ” It’s not clear if Girod objected to paying the much higher legal fees that would have undoubtedly been required for a trial, as opposed to a plea deal.
So now Girod seems likely to go to trial, representing himself, up against seasoned U.S. Justice Department lawyers. And he’ll have to prepare his defense from a jail cell.
Girod’s disdain of legal representation is typical of Amish farmers and other business people accused of violating criminal laws. They generally disdain lawyers as an evil component of the mainstream culture they spend their lives avoiding. In the process, though, they frustrate non-Amish who want to support individuals like Girod, who seems a victim of overly aggressive FDA enforcement.
The odds for Girod in a trial were never real good, considering the apparent animosity among the FDA agents against him. Now, the odds appear very high that the 56-year-old Amish father of 12 could well spend the rest of his life behind bars.