Farmer accused of 'green fraud' still supplying produce

SAN DIEGO - A man is facing a fine and probation after investigators say he lied about selling certified organic and pesticide-free food at a certified organic farmers' market in San Diego. Inspectors call it "green fraud."

Undercover San Diego County agricultural inspectors said Steve Proios told them the produce he was selling at the North Park certified farmers' market was certified organic and pesticide-free.

Proios indicated that the broccoli, Brussels sprouts, red peppers and Japanese eggplant he offered for sale was grown on his family farm in Riverside County and was "pesticide-free."

The inspectors purchased samples of the produce. A state laboratory tested the produce and found it had been treated with insecticides and fungicide. The pesticides found on the produce are not approved for use under the National Organic Program.

After they received the laboratory results, San Diego and Riverside County agriculture inspectors inspected the Proios family farm and they confirmed the produce sold by the Proios family at the certified farmers' market could not have been grown at the family farm.

California law authorizes producers of certified agricultural products to directly sell their products to consumers through local markets. However, the law also prohibits misleading or false advertisement of any products, including locally grown produce.

The San Diego City Attorney's Office filed criminal charges when presented with the above evidence gathered by county agricultural inspectors.

Proios pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of false advertising. He was placed on probation for three years, will pay a $1,000 fine and cannot sell any produce at certified farmers' markets in the city of San Diego for the next three years. 
 
Team 10 found out Proios was still supplying produce to places in San Diego.
 
The Green Truck's website says, "What you put into your body does matter, so we use only certified organic ingredients, which protect your body from harmful pesticides." Owner Dave Holtze said they stopped buying produce from Proios when they heard about the charges.
 
He does not believe all the produce supplied by the Proios family farm was laden with pesticides but said the charges were enough to stop the relationship.
 
"If there is any doubt in my mind that one of our purveyors either is not supplying us or in general not operating organically, then we have to move on," said Holtze.
 
The Local Habit in North Park features organic foods made from scratch. Owner Barry Braden said he bought Brussels sprouts from Proios every week for two years.
 
He told Team 10 he was furious as someone who bought produce from Proios and ate it himself.
 
"He's not authentic, obviously," said Braden. "We have to protect the integrity of what we are trying to accomplish on behalf of our guests, on behalf of ourselves and to make sure that our suppliers are operating in good faith."
 
Both businesses have stopped getting produce from Proios.
 
Proios did not return Team 10's request for a comment.
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