Former employee accused of tampering with food at Johnsonville Sausage plant pleads guilty to federal charge

SHEBOYGAN FALLS -- A Kiel man accused of tampering with sausage products at the Johnsonville Sausage headquarters in Sheboygan Falls has reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors.

Jonathan Lane

According to federal court documents, Jonathan Lane has agreed to plead guilty to one count in a two-count indictment, accusing him of, "with reckless disregard for risk that another person would be placed in danger of death or bodily injury, under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to such risk, tampering with a consumer product that affected interstate and foreign commerce."

The maximum penalty is 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, a mandatory $100 special assessment and three years of supervised release.

He has been ordered to pay more than $42,000 in restitution to Johnsonville Sausage.

The federal court documents say Lane placed contaminants in the production line at Johnsonville Sausage on at least two occasions -- March 25 and March 28. He then "pretended he was a good Samaritan, and miraculously spotted the adulterated sausage and alerted management."

Federal prosecutors say he told investigators on March 25, he inserted a piece of paper into sausage that he "claimed to have gotten off the floor." On March 28, he said he inserted a copper wire into sausage and then "lost track of it," indicating he "prayed to God" someone would find it or the machine would catch it so it wasn't distributed to the public.

Johnsonville plant in Sheboygan Falls

As a result of his actions, the documents say Johnsonville officials had to shut down the production line and engage their food safety protocol, which included discarding the affected product and other steps.

Both times, the items were removed before the sausage links were packaged.

After this happened, Stephanie Dlugopolski, Johnsonville Sausage public relations & social media manager issued the following statement regarding the former employee:

"...our members at Johnsonville take great pride in producing wholesome, great-tasting and safe products for consumers to enjoy. We applaud our food-safety teams for the processes they have in place to identify food-tampering situations like this, so that no affected product leaves our plant - which we can confirm was the case here. This incident took place on our Sheboygan Falls, WI campus.

These members, 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."