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FOX 13 Investigates: How a Utah worker became an FBI informant against a beef exporter

Posted at 9:50 PM, Nov 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-15 17:33:54-05

SALT LAKE CITY — It was a lengthy document the FBI was asking Brandon Barrick to sign.

“The scary aspect of it is toward the end of it,” Barrick recalled. “It says if you are injured or killed in the process of being an FBI informant, the government doesn’t have any liability.”

“I really hadn’t even considered that up until that point.”

It was 2012. Federal agents weren’t asking Barrick to wear a wire at a drug buy or into a terror plot. They wanted him to record his co-workers at the Salt Lake City offices of Parker-Migliorini International, or PMI.

The company buys and exports meat.

“For Japan, it was mainly tongues and tripe,” Barrick said in a recent interview.

FOX 13s Nate Carlisle joins Max Roth below to discuss his story in-depth:

In-Depth: FOX 13's Nate Carlisle breaks down "Whistleblower" investigation

In 2012, Japan had strict inspection requirements for American beef.

Barrick, now a 48-year-old father of three from Provo, says he saw paperwork in a file showing beef going to a partner in Costa Rica and then to another country. He asked his boss what was happening.

“What I discovered,” Barrick said, “was they were shipping U.S. beef down to Costa Rica, and then they were repackaging that meat and shipping it to Japan.”

Barrick says he discovered a second practice, too, involving China, which in 2012 wasn’t accepting U.S. beef.

“They would ship U.S. beef to Hong Kong,” Barrick said, “and then they would offload it in Hong Kong and transport it across the border into China.”

Barrick worried that he was participating in something illegal and that was putting people’s health at risk. If beef on market shelves were found to have E. coli or mad cow disease, Barrick feared the meat would be untraceable and a recall impossible.

“To me, it wasn’t a matter of if that would happen, but when that would happen,” he said.

Barrick consulted a lawyer, who suggested he make a report to federal authorities.

“That would start an FBI investigation,” Barrick explained. “They provided me with a recording device.”

It looked like a key fob to lock or unlock a car. Barrick said he would take it into meetings with managers.

After about six weeks, Barrick said, the FBI told him it had what it needed from the recordings. The next step was to execute a search warrant at PMI offices — then located on Pierpont Avenue in downtown Salt Lake City.

“The FBI had asked me to make a map of the building and where everybody sat,” he said.

An FBI agent would later testify in a whistleblower trial that Barrick’s boss admitted the company’s meat was going to Japan and China and that he knew the practices were illegal. In his own testimony at the same trial, that boss denied saying that to the FBI. During the October 2012 raid, the FBI questioned employees without ever letting on that Barrick had been informing on them.

A month later, he and a few other employees were laid off. The company said it was due to financial hardships caused by the FBI investigation.

“The unique thing about my exit interview,” Barrick said, “it was done by their attorneys and not by any representatives of the company, which was different than the other employees.”

“So, I kind of knew at that point that they had found their guy.”

A PMI-related company in 2014 pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of lying to the government about a shipment of beef.

The company agreed to pay a $1 million fine.

PMI declined multiple interview requests from FOX 13, but sent a statement saying, in part, “PMI denies Mr. Barrick’s characterization of PMI’s export business.”

The case started in 2012, but something recently happened.

Barrick has contended PMI terminated him in retaliation for blowing the whistle.

“So, the substance of their argument,” said Katie Panzer, an attorney who has represented Barrick, “was that they didn’t know he had been the informant or the whistleblower, or alternatively, if they did know, that’s not why they fired him.”

This July, a federal jury agreed with Barrick. The jury awarded him $125,000 in damages. With some provisions in the law and interest going back to 2012, he expects to receive more than that.

“I think around $400,000 is where the final number ends up,” he said.

Barrick is now his own boss at a one-man tax and accounting firm in downtown Salt Lake City.

“For the most part, this was a good outcome,” he says of his work for the FBI. “And I look forward to just being able to move forward.”

PMI says it plans to appeal the verdict in the retaliation case. The statement, written in August, from company attorney Mark Gaylord reads as follows:

"As a follow-up to your email of last week and Mr. Boren’s email of last Friday, we are responding on behalf of Parker Migliorini International, LLC (“PMI”) in connection with your inquiry regarding a story you may be doing on Mr. Barrick and his cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”). The purpose of this email is to simply inform you that PMI denies Mr. Barrick’s characterizations of PMI’s export business and/or its company-wide reduction in force that resulted in his termination along with eight other PMI employees in November of 2012. In fact, PMI has been a valuable corporate citizen within the Salt Lake community for over 30 years. To that end, it is necessary for PMI to clarify a few critical facts:

"First, with regards to the criminal case, it is important to note that it was Parker International, Inc. (not PMI) who pled guilty to making a single false statement under 11 U.S.C. § 611. The plea was the outcome of a two year investigation by the United States Department of Justice based on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”). However, the DOJ never charged Parker International (or PMI for that matter) with violating the FCPA. Instead, a plea was negotiated resulting in single false statement misdemeanor charge. Significantly, PMI was never charged with a crime for its export operations, in which it sends food products throughout the world. And, to be clear, PMI never pled guilty to unlawfully shipping products around the world.

"Second, it is important to note that the United States District Court dismissed Mr. Barrick’s two qui tam claims, which he filed in April of 2012. In his complaint (and proposed amended Complaint) Barrick alleged multiple violations under the False Claims Act (the “FCA”) based on factual allegations offered by Mr. Barrick alone in hopes of securing a substantial payday. Significantly, the Court rejected Mr. Barrick’s claims on their merits because even when his claims were considered in the light most favorable to him, the Court concluded that PMI did not violate the FCA. The court found PMI’s conduct did not avoid the payment of an obligation owed to the federal government because no obligation was owed. Accordingly, Mr. Barrick’s claims were dismissed as a matter of law and the dismissal was affirmed by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals – twice.

"Third, the civil case that actually went to trial last month was a retaliation claim under Section 3730(h) of the False Claims Act and had nothing to do with violations of any criminal law or Mr. Barrick’s affirmative claims under False Claims Act. It merely had to do with whether Mr. Barrick was terminated because of his activities in furtherance of an FCA claim or to stop an FCA violation. PMI denies Mr. Barrick was laid off because of his activities, including his “cooperation with the FBI.” In fact, the evidence at trial proved that PMI had no knowledge whatsoever of Mr. Barrick’s conduct (including his purported cooperation with the FBI) when he was laid off as part of a company-wide reduction in force.

"Finally, although the jury may have found in favor of Mr. Barrick on his retaliation claim, PMI has filed post-trial motions for a directed verdict, for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and/or for new trial. In the event it is unsuccessful, PMI plans to file an appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to have the jury verdict set aside due to the lack of evidence that Mr. Barrick’s lay off was because of his alleged activities, among other grounds.

"In closing, Parker International and PMI put this entire episode behind them in early 2014 and late 2015 in order to focus its energies on expanding its business as one of the premier exporters of meat products around the world."

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