A woman from Stockton, California, could end up in jail for up to a year for selling homemade food on Facebook, following an undercover sting by San Joaquin County officials.
Unknown to Mariza Ruelas, her hobby of exchanging and sometimes selling dishes such as ceviche and chicken-stuffed avocados was unlawful. The mother of six claims she had no idea the plates of food sold via the community forum “209 Food Spot” would lead her to court, and maybe even jail.
More surprising still was the story of how Ruelas, and several of her fellow social sellers were caught. Undercover investigators in San Joaquin County tracked the Facebook group she was a part of for more than a year, according to The Washington Post. The charges: two misdemeanor counts of operating a food facility and engaging in business without a permit. One of the officials even ordered a ceviche from Ruelas via the Facebook group in October 2015.
Ruelas claims she was offered a plea deal with twice the community service issued to other group members, plus three years of probation compared to one year for her cohorts, and a $235 fine. She refused to accept, and is now preparing for her trial, which could see her receive a maximum jail sentence of up to one year. A far cry from what the mother of six describes as an innocent pastime.
Ruelas first discovered the Facebook group two years ago when she was seeking out a last-minute cake for her daughter. The “209 Food Spot” forum allowed people in Stockton to sell food, share recipes, organize potlucks and exchange items. Seeing as she only viewed her group activity as a hobby, Ruelas claims she never thought to obtain a permit for the food she sold around once or twice a month.
“I don’t write the laws, I enforce them. And the legislature has felt that this is a crime,” San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Kelly McDaniel told local television station KTLA. “Food prepared in a facility that does not inspect it creates a risk to the public.”
McDaniel’s added that the Facebook group had been sent a warning before charges were handed down. In a recent Facebook post, Ruelas described the sting as “a waste of time … resources and taxpayer’s money.”