Legal problems continue for the owners of an Illinois pet food company. State prosecutors charged the owners of Evangers Dog & Cat Food with felony theft and money laundering in connection with a scheme that allegedly provided nearly $2 million in free utilities to the company.
Named in the action by Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez are Joel Sher, 54, and his wife, Holly Sher, 52, of Lincolnwood, Illinois. Prosecutors also seized $2.3 million of the couples money in connection with the ongoing money-laundering investigation.
The charges come on the heels of federal actions against Evangers because of the companys manufacturing processes. Last June, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered Evangers to stop shipping pet food in interstate commerce, saying its manufacturing practices could result in under-processed food that posed a health risk to dogs and cats.
In these latest charges, Illinois prosecutors alleged the Shers stole approximately $1,728,000 in gas and electricity from Nicor Gas and Commonwealth Edison. Prosecutors learned the couple directed their employees to help them divert those utilities to Evangers plant in Wheeling, Illinois.
According to prosecutors, Joel Sher ordered employees to use jackhammers and dig through concrete and asphalt to divert gas lines. Prosecutors also alleged that Joe Sher gave employees a tool to help rollback gas meters.
The states investigation, opened in 2009, also revealed that Joel and Holly Sher told employees not to let Nicor officials on the companys property to read the gas meters. Nicor had received several reports about an illegal gas hook at Evangers plant since the company became a customer in 2003, prosecutors said. The Wheeling Police and Fire Departments later discovered an illegal hook up when responding to a gas leak at the factory.
Evidence uncovered during the investigation revealed the Shers directed employees to steal electricity, too.
Prosecutors alleged that Joel Sher ordered employees to attach wires and fuses to high tension wires to redirect the power. Before one inspection, prosecutors said, an Evangers employee was given rubber gloves and told by Joel Sher to get on a forklift and disconnect an illegal bypass that had been attached to a high-voltage line.
The brazen nature of these thefts is exceeded only by the dangerous conditions that these individuals were willing to expose their employees to, Cook County State's Attorney Alvarez said.
Prosecutors said a detailed analysis of Evangers operations determined the Shers' scheme netted nearly $2 million in stolen gas and electricity.
Evangers is a 75-year-old pet food company that makes Super Premium dog and cat food, according to its Web site. It also makes a kosher line of pet food. The Rachel Ray food show featured the pet food company and the Shers in a March 2008 episode.