The term “sting operation” usually conjures up images of drug busts and gun-running rings, with law enforcement agents going undercover to catch some of the country’s most hardened criminals. But for Mariza Ruelas—a single mother from San Joaquin County, California—a recent sting may send her to jail for slightly less nefarious reasons. Ruelas’ crime? Selling homemade fish on Facebook in the hopes of buying hand-me-down furniture and clothing for her children.
That’s right. According to the Washington Post, Ruelas is facing criminal charges after undercover investigators busted her for selling ceviche, along with other homemade foods like tortillas, cakes, and tamales.
Ruelas version of the black market was a community Facebook group titled “209 Food Spot.” The San Joaquin County Police Department decided to target the group last fall, claiming Ruelas and her friends were selling food without authorization from the local health department.
Though it may sound like a bad parody of The Wire, Ruelas allegedly sold ceviche to an undercover cop online, leading to citations for two misdemeanor crimes: operating a food facility, and engaging in business without a permit. Many of the other women in the group were ordered to pay a $235 fine and serve 40 hours of community service, but Ruelas was given twice as much community service and three years of probation, along with the $235 fine. Instead, she plans to fight the charges in court.
Due to the fact the Ruelas did not accept her plea deal, she could be sent to prison for a year if she’s found guilty. And San Joaquin County, for its part, seems to be sticking to its guns.
"I don't write the laws, I enforce them. And the legislature has felt that this is a crime,” Kelly McDaniel, the area’s deputy district attorney, told Fox 40. "Food prepared in a facility that does not inspect it creates a risk to the public.”