Jeremy Stein - Journal

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Egg on Wegmans’ Face

We love Wegmans. It’s the grocery store with the best selection, prices, and atmosphere! Wegmans is consistently on Rochester’s top 100 list and Fortune’s best workplace list. Wegmans is privately owned by the Wegman family, with Danny as the current CEO.

Last year, I noticed protesters outside of the showcase Pittsford Wegmans, with signs directing people to wegmanscruelty.com. I dismissed them as a bunch of PETA-brained vegans looking for a big target to bring attention to their radical campaigns. I didn’t pay much attention to them, until I started hearing more on the news.

It turns out that they were protesting the operation of a Wegmans-owned chicken farm in the next county. Since the little farm is owned by big Wegmans, the animal-rights radicals used them to expose the “inhumane” condition of battery cages. The group created a documentary on the farm’s conditions available for download or on DVD.



In order to perform their investigation, three members of the group, Melanie Ippolito, Megan Cosgrove and Adam Durand snuck into the facility on three separate occasions to film the conditions. Some of the chickens were in bad shape, and they took them out for veterinary care.

When they used the (illegally-obtained) footage to create their documentary, Wegmans came down on them hard. Each member was charged with felony burglary (which could lead to 7 years in prison), petty larceny, criminal mischief, and three counts of third-degree criminal trespassing. The criminal mischief charge was thrown out. The two girls (Melanie Ippolito and Megan Cosgrove) pled guilty to trespassing and petty larceny and were sentenced to three years of probation and 100 hours of community service. Adam Durand, however, was not offered a plea deal and had to fight it out in court.

I was curious what would happen to Adam, so I turned on a Google News Alert to follow the case. These things seem to take a while, but the case finally closed and the jury found him not guilty of the (ridiculous) charges of felony burglary and petty larceny, but they did find him guilty of the three counts of trespassing. The maximum sentence for trespassing is 3 months in jail. While there were three counts, the maximum sentence for multiple counts would generally be 6 months. First offenders (such as Adam) usually receive just probation without jail time.

Wegmans had essentially lost the case. They released a statement:

We are pleased with the convictions on the trespassing charges and although we are disappointed with the other decisions, we do respect the finding of the jury. Our primary concern throughout all of this has been the safety and the security of our egg farm and its employees and with protecting our birds from diseases that intruders might introduce.

When Adam was sentenced the following week, I was shocked to hear that he had been sentenced to 6 months in jail, one year of probation, a $1500 fine, and 100 hours of community service. When he asked for time to arrange for the care of his pets, he was refused and hauled off to jail.

The county probation department had recommended only community service. Why the stiff sentence? Wegmans had requested that the judge sentence him to 6 months. They got what they wanted.

I’ve always liked Wegmans, but this case bothers me. Wegmans was faced with some free speech that they didn’t like. Rather than simply counter with free speech, they pressured the legal system to give a severe sentence to one of their critics. Wegmans claims that “an intrusion like Durand’s could introduce pathogens — like avian flu — capable of wiping out whole flocks of the company’s birds”. Give me a break. Yes, we’re all scared of avian flu, but the plain fact of the matter is that Wegmans’ primary concern is with their corporate image. That’s what Durand attacked and that’s what Wegmans was lashing back against.

Because Wegmans took vindictive legal action instead of public relations action, I personally will not set foot in a Wegmans store until Adam is out of jail.

May 29, 2006 21 Comments.

21 Comments

  1. Danny replied:

    You’ll be missed but I’ll survive so long as your spendthrift wife continues her weekly visits.

    May 29th, 2006 at 10:26 pm. Permalink.

  2. Benjamin replied:

    How do you feel about IBM filing piles of countersuits when it is sued? Isn’t this similar?

    May 30th, 2006 at 5:49 am. Permalink.

  3. Jeremy replied:

    If Wegmans was taken to court, I’d expect them to fight back legally. In this case, Wegmans used legal maneuvering to counter free speech. When Steve Jobs mocked IBM, IBM didn’t turn their patent lawyers on Apple. But if you are foolish enough to sue IBM, you can be sure they’ll squish you in return.

    May 30th, 2006 at 10:02 am. Permalink.

  4. Benjamin replied:

    Steve Jobs didn’t break the law.

    May 31st, 2006 at 4:58 am. Permalink.

  5. Benjamin replied:

    I imagine Wegmans hope is more that of preventing trespassing than preventing free speech.

    May 31st, 2006 at 4:59 am. Permalink.

  6. Jeremy replied:

    I can see that my position is confusing. Wegmans was offended on two fronts:

    1. Their egg farm was trespassed.
    2. Their reputation was smeared

    The first offense was minor. There was no damage, and despite Wegmans insistent claims that it was worried about disease, that’s simply a fib to help justify their legal action. Consider this exchange between Adam’s lawyer Egert and the farm production manager Wadsworth:

    Egert also asked if workers wore gloves to prevent transmission of diseases to the animals.

    Wadsworth said they did. Egert then prepared to play a tape and asked Wadsworth the question again.

    “[For] workers it’s optional,” Wadsworth said. “I was referring to visitors.”

    Egert then played a tape of a gloveless Wadsworth handling a chicken.

    (The trespassers did wear gloves.) Disease is not the issue. The trespassing in itself was not significant. If there was no DVD, Wegmans probably wouldn’t have even pressed charges, but if they did, Durand would have been sentenced to only community service.

    However, the second offense was major. It jeopardizes Wegmans’ profits, the community’s good will, and perhaps most importantly, the Wegman family name. This is what made Wegmans hopping mad and had them sic their lawyers on the film-makers.

    My issue is that Wegmans is fighting with offense #1 tactics against offense #2. Adam Durand is effectively in jail due to the content of his film. That is wrong, and Wegmans was wrong to help cause it.

    May 31st, 2006 at 7:40 am. Permalink.

  7. Benjamin replied:

    The 2 offenses do interplay. Other people are more likely to follow his illegal actions because of the movement that is attached to it. It is necessary to throw the book at him in order to dissuade future criminals. I don’t believe the PR either but I think Wegmans’ actions are justified.

    May 31st, 2006 at 9:28 am. Permalink.

  8. Shannon replied:

    It’s hard to have any sympathy for the little guy when he was in the wrong, too.

    Maybe Wegmans had it right…their reputation was deliberately attacked and they effectively defended it. It would be a smart move to clean up their chicken farm, too.

    May 31st, 2006 at 9:49 pm. Permalink.

  9. Mikado replied:

    His object all sublime
    He will achieve in time —
    To let the punishment fit the crime,
    The punishment fit the crime.

    June 1st, 2006 at 10:37 pm. Permalink.

  10. Jeremy replied:

    Further evidence that the sentence was unfair:

    Adam Durand has to be resentenced because under New York State law, he cannot be given both jail time and probation time. The judge will need to remove probation from his sentence.

    June 2nd, 2006 at 12:09 pm. Permalink.

  11. Jeremy replied:

    Do you think Wegmans was justified? Then perhaps you’d apply the same logic to believe that the converse situation would also be justified. Consider the case of Amir Tofangsazan. He sold a defective laptop on eBay. Rather than pursue legal recourse, his victim (“laptopguy”) extracted personal information from the laptop and posted it in on the web to embarrass Amir.

    That was (probably) perfectly legal free speech, but it was morally wrong. As I argued above, the response to an offense should be on the same terms as the offense. Just as Wegmans took advantage of the legal situation to fight free speech, laptopguy took advantage of incredibly damaging information to shame someone who had defrauded him out of £375. It was the wrong tactic and excessive.

    So, do you think laptopguy was justified? or am I wrong to compare the cases?

    June 5th, 2006 at 11:46 am. Permalink.

  12. Shannon replied:

    I’m more inclined to sympathize with people who use legal methods to attain their goals.

    Laptopguy’s approach is mean, and I don’t like mean.

    I have a harder time seeing Wegman’s as mean. I might describe them as “heavy-handed.” One could possibly argue that the Wegman’s case might serve as a deterrent, whereas the next defective laptop seller will be sure to remove all personal information.

    I’d still clean up the chicken farm.

    June 7th, 2006 at 4:28 pm. Permalink.

  13. WC replied:

    Thanks for your great post about the Wegmans Cruelty film and campaign! More information can be found on the webpages below.

    Just a quick correction: that picture you have is not of Megan Cosgrove! Watch the film and you’ll see what she looks like! [Editor: now fixed]

    http://www.WegmansCruelty.com
    http://urveg.org/campaigns/wegmans/petition

    http://wegmanscruelty.blogspot.com
    http://myspace.com/wegmanscruelty

    Syracuse, NY:
    http://www.communityanimalproject.org/wegmanseggs.html

    Baltimore, MD:
    http://www.baltimoreanimalrights.com/

    June 8th, 2006 at 6:00 pm. Permalink.

  14. Jeremy replied:

    Thank you for pointing out the error; it must be a common name. I hadn’t yet watched the movie. I didn’t want to be influenced by the propaganda, but I guess it’s clear that I’ve already formed some opinions here, so I just now went ahead and watched it.

    Oh, it’s that Megan! She helped us adopt our dog from Lollypop Farm. I also remember noticing her outside the circus protesting cruelty to elephants. I’m sorry I couldn’t find a decent picture of her anywhere (I just put up a frame from the video). If someone sends me a better one, I’ll put it up.

    June 8th, 2006 at 9:09 pm. Permalink.

  15. Anonymous replied:

    I can’t speak for the film-makers, but I will speculate that one of the main objectives (perhaps the main objective) of releasing the film wasn’t so much to shame Wegmans into changing their practices as it was to educate the public about the cruelty inherent in factory farming. The fact that Wegmans’ reputation was smeared was almost incidental.

    June 9th, 2006 at 10:24 am. Permalink.

  16. CJ replied:

    Anonymous,

    We must live in different worlds. In mine, the video is called “Wegmans Cruelty”, their website is wegmanscruelty.com, they demonstrate outside Wegmans stores, and they have a petition asking Wegmans to change their actions. This is about Wegmans.

    June 11th, 2006 at 6:34 am. Permalink.

  17. Karen replied:

    I think it would be better if you stopped shopping there altogether, instead of just till he’s released from jail. His release won’t change what they did to him and what they continue doing to the chickens.

    June 14th, 2006 at 11:07 am. Permalink.

  18. Adam Durand replied:

    I enjoyed reading your post, Jeremy.

    I’ve done 35 days in Wayne County Jail so far, but I was granted a stay of my sentence and released while I appeal. We’ll see what the higher court has to say about the sentence.

    July 17th, 2006 at 1:58 am. Permalink.

  19. Megan replied:

    I also appreciated your post, Jeremy. When did you adopt your dog? Is she/he still with you?

    July 21st, 2006 at 12:33 pm. Permalink.

  20. Jeremy replied:

    We adopted our foxhound, Copper just before closing time on New Years Eve, 2001. On November 29, 2005, Copper died. (Registration required to follow that link.)

    Please feel free to leave your email address. It isn’t displayed on the site. It would enable me to reply privately or create an account for you for the above link.

    Thanks for stopping by!

    July 21st, 2006 at 1:00 pm. Permalink.

  21. Jeremy replied:

    Statement Made by Judge Kehoe Upon Sentencing Adam Durand

    November 27th, 2007 at 10:45 pm. Permalink.

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