Kosher Market Targeted in USDA Probe, Class-Action Suit

LOS ANGELES — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has launched an investigation into the Doheny Glatt Kosher meat market as controversy brews over the integrity of products sold there.

The owner of Doheny, Michael Engelman, faces accusations of selling meat that was not properly certified under kosher rules.

Last week, a council of rabbis pulled Doheny’s kosher certification and, in a statement Friday, raised the possibility of “legal action,” a recourse to secular courts that would be rare.

Tuesday, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service confirmed that the Doheny market is under investigation.

Officials declined to provide additional details because the investigation is ongoing.

Eric Agaki, a private investigator whose video recordings ignited the kosher meat controversy, said he met with USDA investigators March 25 and gave them materials he had collected during his own investigation.

Though the exact nature of the USDA’s investigation was not clear, Agaki said investigators told him that USDA boxes are not supposed to be repacked.

The allegations have sharply divided L.A.’s Jewish community.

Many longtime customers returned to the market Friday after it got a new kosher certification from local rabbis.

Some supporters said they believed Engelman had been set up by other distributors who grew frustrated by his success.

In an interview with The Times on Monday,  Agaki flatly denied those rumors.

“How can anybody set them up?” Agaki said of Engelman and his associates. “They did what they did. Nobody made them do it.

“Nobody hired me, nobody paid me,” he continued. “If anybody wants to pay me and send me donations, I’m glad to accept them.”

Agaki said his investigation into Doheny began about seven months ago when he was approached by a local rabbi.

The rabbi told him some community members were frustrated because Doheny was selling meat “way too cheap” and  “putting a lot of people out of business.”

Sources also told Agaki that Doheny workers were picking up empty glatt kosher boxes from restaurants.

The video released to KTLA was taken March 7, Agaki said. (Watch the Video)

It purports to show one of Engelman’s associates loading his car with repacked glatt kosher boxes  at an unsupervised warehouse in Reseda.

The associate later transfers them to Engelman at a McDonald’s, and Engelman unloads the boxes at his market when the overseer is absent.

Engelman could not be reached for comment Friday when The Times visited the market.

Tuesday phone calls to the store went unanswered.

–Matt Stevens and Kate Mather, Los Angeles Times

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