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Sharon and Jeffry Payne sentenced to probation, community service and other stipulations; restitution also ordered

GRAPHIC FILE PHOTO - Jeffry Payne (left) and Sharon Payne speak to an inspector from the United States Department of Agriculture in January 2015, soon after the couple shuttered their business in Dundee, Riteway Meat Co.

Sharon and Jeffry Payne were convicted last week on charges they knowingly allowed an estimated $107,000 worth of customers' meat to rot at their former Dundee business, Riteway Meat Co.

The couple, who had owned and run the business at Highway 99W and Ninth Street for two decades, were each convicted on six counts of second-degree criminal mischief, a Class A misdemeanor. Second-degree criminal mischief, according to Oregon revised statutes, is committed when an individual intentionally damages another person's property worth more than $500. The charge is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of $6,250 on each count.

The couple were each sentenced to 24 months of probation and 120 hours of community service to be completed within one year. The judgement from Yamhill County Circuit Court Judge Ronald Stone also included orders that the couple pay $1,760 in court costs and attorney fees, that they not move out of state, find gainful employment and write a letter of apology to the victims in the case, their customers, who claimed thousands of dollars in damages for meat lost by their actions in the fall of 2014.

"(The Paynes) did unlawfully and recklessly damage, in an amount exceeding five hundred dollars, five beef carcasses … by leaving the carcasses to rot, the said defendants having no right to do so nor reasonable grounds to believe that the said defendants had such right," the charging documents in the case reported in July of this year.

Sharon Payne, 58, and Jeffry Payne, 62, were first charged in July 2015 after an investigation by the Newberg-Dundee Police Department and aided by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the federal and state agencies that oversee meat processing operations. The investigators found that the Paynes, despite filing for bankruptcy in 2012, continued to operate the business and accept customers' meat "even after becoming aware that they could neither store nor appropriately and safely process the meat," Yamhill County District Attorney Brad Berry said in a July 2015 release.GRAPHIC FILE PHOTO - Riteway Meat Co. closed its doors for good in January 2015 after allegations surfaced that the company had let customers' meat spoil.

The charges were based on complaints from six particular victims, although the NDPD had taken 80 to 90 reports from disgruntled customers at the time, many of whom were hunters who had dropped off elk and deer at Riteway for processing. The six victims claimed Riteway was responsible for the destruction of more than 10,000 pounds of meat delivered to the Paynes for processing in November and December 2014. The six primary victims are referred to in court records as J. Siegers, J. Wright, R. Smith, R. Luoto, A. Zabinski and J. Boedigheimer. Adam Zabinski and Jeff Boedigheimer were later interviewed by this newspaper for a series of stories that began in late 2015.

Word of the Paynes' difficulties first surfaced in fall 2014 and continued until the business closed in January 2015. Despite initially receiving word from Sharon Payne that the business would soon reopen, customers nonetheless became alarmed when communication from the business ceased and they were unable to retrieve their meat.

Zabinski said at the time that he would be out more than $10,000 if the beef he had delivered for processing was spoiled. His concerns were confirmed a few weeks later in February when a Eugene contractor for the USDA, Shoe's Mobile Slaughter & Processing, removed thousands of pounds of spoiled meat from the shuttered business.

When the business closed and the spoiled meat was disposed of by the USDA, the customers were added as creditors to the Paynes' bankruptcy case and in March 2015 that case was converted from Chapter 13 to Chapter 7. The difference between the two designations is that rather than making a plan to make monthly payments toward settling the business' debts under Chapter 13, provisions of Chapter 7 bankruptcy require a trustee to be authorized to liquidate the debtors' remaining assets in order to cover the creditors' claims.

In September 2015, the property and building that formerly held the business was sold for $299,000 to PDX Industrial Investments, a real estate investment fund. Sharon Payne told a bankruptcy court in May 2015 that the creditors who filed claims against the business would be paid.

"If the property is sold for what it is worth, then there is more than enough to pay the creditors," she said.

The Paynes blamed their misfortune on PGE, saying the power company shut off power due to nonpayment of their bill stemming from the 2012 bankruptcy filing, as well as bills that accrued since then. Jeff Payne reportedly turned the power back on himself in order to protect the meat, but PGE curtailed service once again and threatened to have him arrested if he tampered with the system again, the couple claimed.

As part of the proceedings last week, Stone ordered that the Paynes pay $5,214 in restitution to seven customers. He gave the Paynes 20 days to argue the amount of the restitution; if they don't then they'll begin paying soon.

"(The victims) were identified by the fact that their names as owners were on tags attached to rotten beef carcasses found in the cooler at Riteway Meat in February 2015," prosecutor Lisl Miller said Friday. "The power had been shut off since the first week of January."

She added that the Paynes were convicted of recklessly damaging property belonging to the seven victims: "Under the law, recklessness means that someone is aware of, and disregards, a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a particular result will occur (here, that meat on the carcasses would be damaged or destroyed)."

A hearing to determine the Paynes' progress in paying restitution has been set for Jan. 23 in Circuit Court Judge John Collins' courtroom. The Paynes will be required to appear in Collins' courtroom on a monthly basis to report on their restitution payment plan, Miller said.

She added that the Paynes were ordered to pay restitution to three victims who were either not paid as part of the bankruptcy proceedings, didn't receive full compensation or didn't make a bankruptcy claim. Those receiving restitution are Wright ($3,798), Smith ($660 – he received $1,404 via the bankruptcy proceeding) and Boedigheimer ($755 – the bankruptcy court paid him $974).

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