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Eight Enter Guilty Pleas, Most Face Prison Time With AM-OutFront-Pepsi Pursuit

August 4, 1993 GMT

Undated (AP) _ At least 39 people have been charged in connection with the Pepsi-Cola tampering scare in June. Eight have pleaded guilty. Federal authorities in several states report they are still investigating other claims of tampering.

While most of the cases involved Pepsi products, a few of the accused claimed to have found foreign objects in Coke and Diet Coke cans. Most defendants face charges of making false reports about the tainting of a consumer product, a federal crime that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

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ALASKA:

1. Jose Pagan, 53, told an Anchorage grocery store he’d found a syringe in a can of caffeine-free Pepsi purchased there. The resultant FDA investigation resulted in Pagan being charged with making a false report of consumer product tampering. He goes on trial in federal court Sept. 13. Pagan, who will have a Spanish interpreter in court, pleaded innocent July 15.

CALIFORNIA:

2. Yousef Ismail, 20, a store clerk in Fallbrook, a suburb north of San Diego, claimed to have found a syringe in a Pepsi can. He pleaded guilty to a federal charge of making a false report and is to be sentenced in federal court Aug. 30.

3. Maria Luz Martinez, 62, of Covina, allegedly planted a needle in a can as a joke on her daughter. She was charged June 17 with making a false report and pleaded innocent. No court date has been set.

4. Jean Ellen Rose, 25, of Davis admitted to police she put a sewing needle in a can of Pepsi before complaining of discovering it. She is to be arraigned Aug. 17 on a misdemeanor charge of falsely reporting a crime; the maximum penalty is six months in county jail and a $1,000 fie.

5. James Ray Russell, 30, of West Hollywood pleaded guilty July 26 and said he put a syringe in a can of Diet Pepsi from a convenience store so he could sue the soft drink giant and give the money to the homeless. He is to be sentenced Sept. 27.

6. Debra Uyeoka, 24, of Van Nuys has pleaded innocent to a misdemeanor charge of filing a false police report. She told officers a syringe from a can of Diet Coke stuck her in the mouth. No trial date has been set.

CONNECTICUT:

7. Michelle A. Cunningham, 27, of New Britain told Newington police on June 15 that she’d found a hypodermic syringe in a Coke can at a motel. The next day, she confessed to officers that she’d placed the needle in the can. She has an Aug. 5 court date to answer a charge of falsely reporting an incident.

COLORADO:

8. Gail Levine, 62, of Aurora has pleaded innocent to a count of product tampering. She was indicted by a federal grand jury July 8 after a convenience store videocamera captured a woman who resembled Levine putting a syringe-like object into a Diet Pepsi can. No trial date has been set. Levine, who is also charged separately with 23 counts of fraudulently obtaining government benefits, is being held without bond.

FLORIDA:

9. John A. Sedwick, 45, of St. Petersburg, Fla., claimed in June he found two screws in a can of caffeine-free Diet Coke while at work at a Dunedin carpet-cleaning service. Days later, he was charged with filing a false report. ″It just doesn’t pay to tamper with cans,″ he said in a public confession. ″You’re going to get caught eventually.″ No trial date has been set for Sedwick, who said he did it for the attention.

ILLINOIS:

10. Eugene Bunting, 37, of Rantoul reported to police June 16 that his son found a syringe in a Pepsi. He admitted the story was a hoax when police said they were calling the FBI. He is to be arraigned Aug. 10 on one federal count of filing a fraudulent tampering report.

11. Melinda Moore, 22, of Troy told a television station June 16 she’d found two screws inside a can of Pepsi. Police said they found similar screws at her home and noted inconsistencies in her story, and Moore admitted lying. She was indicted June 23 on a federal charge of filing a fraudulent tampering report.

12. Keith Willis, 22, said he found a syringe in a Pepsi he bought from a vending machine at Central DuPage County Hospital in the Chicago suburb of Winfield on June 16. The U.S. attorney filed a complaint June 17. The normal 30-day period for an indictment or other action has been extended another 30 days.

IOWA:

13 and 14. Donna Luna, 26, pleaded guilty to giving false information about a tainted consumer product. Her husband, Kevin Luna, 31, pleaded guilty to being an accessory to making a false claim. They had claimed to have found a needle from a syringe in a can of Pepsi. Sentencing is Sept. 17: she faces five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000; he could get 2 1/2 years and a $125,000 fine.

LOUISIANA:

15. Michael Lagrone, 28, of Alexandria pleaded no contest to a state misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief by filing a false police report. He was sentenced July 13 to six months’ probation and ordered to pay a $500 fine.

16. Percy Wilson, 57, of New Orleans had a preliminary hearing June 22 on a federal complaint of filing a false tampering report. A week later, Magistrate Louis Moore Jr. approved Wilson’s request for a sanity review. He has not been indicted.

MASSACHUSETTS:

17. Cinia Martinez, 54, of Lawrence pleaded guilty July 14 to making a false statement regarding product tampering. Martinez first told investigators and reporters she had become ill after finding a syringe in a half-consumed can of Pepsi. In court, she admitted she found the needle in a city park and put it in the can herself. At her sentencing Oct. 26, prosecutors are expected to recommend she get two years’ probation with no fine.

MICHIGAN:

18. Debbie Branham, 28, of Albion allegedly fabricated a story about being pricked in the lip by a hypodermic in a Diet Pepsi. She was arraigned in federal court July 19 on a charged of making false statements that a consumer product had been tainted.

19. Francis Converse, 53, of Bitely is to be arraigned Aug. 6 on charges of making a false report about consumer product tampering and lying to a federal agent. Converse told the Newaygo County Sheriff’s Department and other authorities he’d found a needle in a can of Pepsi his wife had bought at a grocery store. He is accused of opening the can and inserting the needle himself.

20. Lynette King, 43, of Plymouth Township was initially charged with making false statements about a consumer product being tainted after claiming she’d found a syringe in a can of Diet Pepsi from a new six-pack. When she recanted her claim to authorities, she said she was making a point to her son, who had ignored her warnings to pour his soda into a glass before drinking it. The charge was dropped, however, July 9 when King refused to waive a grand jury indictment. The dismissal means the prosecution needs more time to investigate, said Sam Hutchings, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office. Hutchings said the carge could be refiled at any time.

21 and 22. Audrey Long, 32, and Robert Long, 35, of Marine City were charged in state court with one count each of filing a false police report and conspiracy to file a false report. Robert Long told police he’d found a syringe in a 20-ounce bottle of Pepsi; Audrey Long later admitted making false statements to protect her husband. A joint jury trial is set for Aug. 25.

23. Randy A. Thompson, 31, of Detroit claimed to have found a syringe and a piece of tile in two cans of Pepsi bought at a supermarket. He later admitted taking an insulin syringe used by a diabetic brother and putting it in a can he tried to reseal, then gave to his girlfriend. In an affidavit, Thompson said he wanted to show her ″this kind of thing could happen to her.″ A charge of knowingly filing a false report of consumer product tampering was dismissed July 8, signaling - as in King’s case - that the proscution needs additional time to prepare a case. Hutchings said charges could be refiled.

MISSOURI:

24. William J. Altenreid, 21, of Hollister told police his syringe-in-a- Pepsi report ″started as a joke, and then to see what the police department would do.″ He stands trial Sept. 14 on a federal charge of falsely reporting that a consumer product was tainted. Altenreid said he’d found a needle by pouring Pepsi into a glass, a practice recommended by authorities after the first few reports of hypodermics were made public.

25. Ira Winston, 30, of St. Charles reported feeling a burning sensation in his mouth and finding a needle and syringe in a can of Diet Pepsi bought at a gas station. He later admitted to police he’d found the hypodermic at a doctor’s office and put it in the can, that he had ″financial problems and believed he could get some money as a result of a lawsuit filed against Pepsi.″ He was charged in June on a federal count of lying about a consumer product’s safety.

NEW YORK:

26. Tomas Candelaria Ruiz, 35, of New Rochelle admitted placing a hypodermic needle in a can of Pepsi then falsely reporting the needle was in the can when he bought it at a bagel shop. As a janitor at an animal hospital, Ruiz had access to used syringes; when police confronted him about this, he confessed. A court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 16 on a federal charge of making a false report about the safety of a consumer product.

27. Paul Kirschner, 28, of Brooklyn pleaded guilty July 30 to a charge of falsely reporting an incident. He originally claimed to have swallowed two pins as he drank from a can of Pepsi but later confessed the hoax. When he is sentenced for the third-degree misdemeanor offense, he faces up to three months in jail and a fine.

NORTH CAROLINA:

28. Denarde Antonio Melton, 20, of Morven is charged with making a false report about consumer product tampering. He was arrested after admitting his hoax at a news conference June 21. ″I figured this was an easy way to make some money by suing Pepsi,″ he said. ″I didn’t think it would go this far, and I didn’t think I would go this far, and I didn’t think I would get in so much trouble.″

OHIO:

29. Kelly Jo Fitzwater, 29, of Beach City claimed she found a needle in the Pepsi her 3-year-old daughter had been drinking before the child’s nap. Fitzwater was arraigned June 17 on a charge of making a false report about product tampering. No trial date has been set.

30. Carolyn Bowe-McCallum, 50, of Plain Township waived grand jury proceedings and a legal information was filed July 28, charging her with filing a false report of product tampering. She claimed to have found a broken sewing needle and thread in a can of Diet Pepsi. Two days before her June 25 arrest, she offered to take a polygraph test and said she had ″nothing to hide.″

OREGON:

31. Cheri Bishop, 23, of Hillsboro claimed she found two needles in the bottom of a glass after her husband poured Pepsi from a can. According to an FDA affidavit, she later admitted dropping the needles in the glass; she pleaded innocent July 15 to making a false report about a consumer product. Her federal trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 14.

32. James Robison, 19, of Portland was arrested in Salt Lake City after failing to appear in federal court in Oregon on a charge of making a false statement about product tampering. Court documents say he admitted putting syringe in a can of Diet Pepsi as a joke on his girlfriend’s mother. He pleaded innocent and will stand trial Sept. 7.

33. John Waudby, 21, of Portland claimed to have found a syringe in a Pepsi can June 16. Two days later, he told authorities a friend had put it in the can as a practical joke. Waudby pleaded innocent July 15 to making a false report about a consumer product tampering; trial is set for Sept. 14.

PENNSYLVANIA:

34. Christopher J. Burnette, 25, of Williamsport pleaded guilty July 9 to knowingly making a false report about a consumer product being tainted. Burnette, who washes cars at an auto dealership, is free pending sentencing on Sept. 28. According to court records, he took a 2 1/2-inch-long hypodermic needle and an empty Diet Pepsi can from a just-purchased 12-pack to Williamsport Hospital, where he told officials he’d found the needle in the can. He actually had taken the needle from the trash of an insulin-dependent relative. Burnette has said he made the false report because he was depressed.

35. Richard C. Miller, 32, of Newmanstown was charged July 28 with putting a hypodermic needle in a can of Diet Pepsi. That is a lesser charge than filing a false report and carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Miller told his story to reporters in mid-June.

SOUTH CAROLINA:

36. Haskell Everett Scott Sr., 59, of Greenville admitted to police in mid- June he had put a needle into a bottle of Pepsi after a convenience store security camera captured the incident. He was indicted July 27 on a federal count of communicating false information regarding a consumer product. No trial has been scheduled.

TENNESSEE:

37. Herschel Wayne McKay, 18, of Nashville, claimed to have found a syringe in a can of Pepsi June 16 and was indicted July 8 for filing a false report about consumer product tampering.

TEXAS:

38. Deborah McGuire, 39, of Houston pleaded innocent July 29 to charges of making a false report to the FDA and to falsely claiming sewing needles were in a can of Coke. She is free on $10,000 bond, due to stand trial Sept. 20.

WISCONSIN:

39. Katherine ″Kitty″ Wuerl, 30, of Milwaukee pleaded guilty July 29 to a federal charge of making a false statement alleging product tampering. Formerly a telemarketer for Journal-Sentinel Inc., which publishes the Milwaukee Sentinel and The Milwaukee Journal, Wuerl was drinking a can of Pepsi in the employee lounge when she said she’d found an insulin syringe in the can. A Sentinel reporter was nearby, and the newspaper ran Wuerl’s claim on the next day’s front page. She was fired when she admitted her lie. In return for her guilty plea, prosecutors recommended she receive no more than 12 months in prison when she is sentenced Oct. 19.