STOCKTON, Calif. — A single mother could be jailed for up to a year because she shared homemade meals through a Facebook food group.
Mariza Ruelas of Stockton was charged after a year-long investigation by county inspectors that ended with an undercover sting operation.
“It was just unreal that they were saying you could face up to a year in jail,” Reulas, a mother of six, told Fox 40 in Sacramento.
Reulas and others in the Stockton, California-area had been trading food, organizing potlucks and sharing recipes on the 209 Food Spot Facebook page for several years. Not all of the exchanges involved money, but some did.
“Somebody would be like, ‘Oh I don’t have anything to trade you but I would love to buy a plate,’” Reulas said.
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Members of the 209 Food Spot page did not realize that San Joaquin County health inspectors were monitoring their activity.
In October 2015, an undercover investigator ordered a ceviche – a seafood dish — from Reulas. A few months later the mother of six received a summons for selling food and engaging in business without a permit – each a misdemeanor. The district attorney offered Reulas a plea deal that included three years of probation, a $235 fine and 80 hours of community service. She refused, saying she could not afford the fine and that she had only sold items once or twice a month. In fact, she and her children even cooked food for the homeless.
“The purpose wasn’t to sell food,” Ruelas told The Washington Post. “We wanted to bring something positive to our community.”
“They took the time to be investigating for over a year now. But they can’t solve all these unsolved murders?”
She “didn’t see any harm” in what she was doing.
“There wasn’t anybody selling it daily,” she said. “A lot of times, they were just getting back what they put into the ingredients.”
Reulas was not the only member of the food group to be charged, but the others accepted the plea.
Stockton has been dealing with a rise in violent crimes, including murders and robberies, over the past year, The Stockton Record reported.
San Joaquin County deputy district attorney Kelly McDaniel defended the investigation, saying the Facebook group was putting the public at danger and undercutting legal businesses, Fox 40 reported.
“I don’t write the laws, I enforce them. And the legislature has felt that this is a crime,” McDaniel said.
Ruelas, though, said it was not about making money.
“People are assuming that I was taking from other businesses,” Ruelas told The Washington Post. “It’s not something that I was trying to make a business out of.”
Reulas is worried about what will happen to her children if she goes to jail. She said her 17-year-old daughter, Mariyah, doesn’t like to hear her talk to reporters or attorneys. Her other children, including 6-year-old Justice, are also scared.
“He always asks … ‘Are you going to come back?’” Reulas said.
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