The bust of Gary Oaks and the Double O Farms cowshare last spring in Cincinnati was actually a carefully orchestrated law enforcement affair, replete with multi-agency coordination and extensive planning.
I learned about many of the details—much more than I had space for in my BusinessWeek.com column—from an internal investigation summary memo compiled by an Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) investigator. The ODA provided it to my request. As I have noted previously, the ODA is extremely professional in responding to media requests, unlike other agencies like the Kentucky Department of Public Health, which didn’t return my calls or emails. While many government agencies hide behind official language and double-speak, the ODA is upfront about its actions—it believes in what it is doing and isn’t afraid to say so.
The two-and-a-half page memo states that the case had its origins in “an email from a neighbor of Gary Oaks wanting to know where Mr. Oaks sold his milk. He wanted to know so he would be sure not to purchase milk from that location.”
This isn’t a huge surprise to Gary, who told me a neighbor had filed a number of zoning and other challenges against him over the previous couple years, even though their area is zoned for agriculture. Nor is it unusual as these cases go—they seem to originate either from a resentful neighbor or farmer (unhappy that the raw milk farmer is getting more for his or her milk than the conventional dairy farmer), or else from an illness among customers (as in the Ann Arbor, Michigan sting), with the public health authorities immediately assuming raw milk to be the culprit.
Once they had their complaint, the Kentucky, Ohio, and federal officials went to work carrying out major surveillance of the farm and Gary. “Surveillance of the farm revealed that the farm had approximately 15 to 25 cows cows and that the garage area had refrigerators lined on one side of the wall and skids of plastic jugs against the other wall,” says the memo. So it’s obvious the investigators poked around the Double O Farms, without bothering with any formalities, like notifying the owner or obtaining a search warrant.
The surveillance then expanded. “On Feb. 17, 2006, a pickup truck with a trailer was observed backed up to the garage and it appeared that the trailer was being loaded with milk. The truck and trailer was followed to a parking lot of the Waldorf School located at 745 Derby Road, Cincinnati, Ohio. There the driver of the truck began passing out milk to numerous individuals waiting at this location.”
But one such surveillance wasn’t enough. “On Feb. 27, 2006, the truck and trailer was again observed being loaded with milk. The vehicle was followed to the Waldorf School, where the milk was distributed to numerous people.”
So next time you’re picking up raw milk, and you think you’re being watched…well, maybe you are.
On March 6, the day of the bust, seven Kentucky, Ohio, and FDA agents all met in the morning, while two additional agents were “observing the loading of milk into the trailer at the Kentucky farm location. The two inspectors began following the truck and trailer toward Cincinnati.” An inspector notified Cincinnati Police, who were told to accompany the inspectors “so we could speak with the individual involved and examine the milk.”
The confrontation with Gary and his shareholders then took place pretty much as I described in the article. Interestingly, while the memo says the investigators "interviewed" Gary, nothing is mentioned about Gary becoming physically ill from the intensity of the interrogations, of requests by the shareholders to call 9-1-1, and of objections by the shareholders to the seizure of their property.
The investigators must have been too focused on the objective of their bust. As the memo states, the agencies “each removed three one half gallons of milk for their testing…and the test results revealed that the milk was not pasteurized. After testing, one gallon of the milk contained in a plastic jug, one quart of whey and a package of cheese were all placed in the evidence room freezer and retained for evidence. The remaining milk and milk products were destroyed.”
Presumably the retained milk was kept in the same evidence room as cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, and other such banned items.
The memo performs an important public service: It lets us know what these public officials spend their time doing—following hardworking citizens around, monitoring their property, and then abusing them. It’s nice to know we’re being so well protected.