A federal judge yesterday delayed for two months a decision on whether the operators of a Carroll County farm under state quarantine know anything about the disappearance of more than 100 pigs that prosecutors fear may be illegally slaughtered.
Carroll L. Schisler Sr., 60, who owns the 112-acre farm in Marston, and his son, Carroll Jr., 34, who manages it, appeared yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to respond to allegations that they may be connected to the pigs' disappearance. The two are facing dozens of charges ranging from animal cruelty to selling contaminated meat.
The farm has been under quarantine since spring, when a pig taken from the property by state inspectors was found to carry trichinosis, a potentially deadly disease that can be passed in undercooked meat.
Both men testified that they don't know where the pigs are, how they were taken or who took them. They said four cows -- valued as high as $950 each -- also are missing.
Saying he did not have enough information to determine whether the Schislers know more, U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis said he would give prosecutors and defense attorneys 60 days to allow each side to present evidence that could help him determine whether the Schislers have violated a state order that prohibited pigs from being moved onto or off the farm.
Federal prosecutors said in court documents last week that it is not clear whether the pigs have been moved off the farm, slaughtered or sold for slaughter, but "each of these scenarios would create a serious risk to the public health of Maryland citizens."
Because the swine remain missing, state agriculture officials this week cautioned consumers to thoroughly cook pork.
The warning encourages consumers to cook "all foods" to a temperature of 160 degrees for at least 15 seconds -- stuffings and stuffed meats should be heated throughout to a minimum temperature of 165 degrees for at least 15 seconds -- with no interruption to the cooking process.
"To exercise extreme caution, consumers may want to consider cooking pork to 170 degrees," according to the statement.
The Schislers yesterday testified that the pigs had been gathered in a hog lot Sept. 17 or Sept. 18 -- to enable state agriculture officials to conduct testing -- and they last saw the animals there Sept. 24.
Schisler Sr.'s attorney, Roland Walker, called state agriculture officials Sept. 26 -- who were scheduled to test the pigs this week -- to report the pigs missing. Schisler Sr. valued the 104 missing pigs at $20,000.
Schisler Sr. suggested that a family squabble over the ownership of the farm and its livestock might explain the pigs' disappearance.
Last week, attorneys for the Schislers said their clients suspected a governmental agency removed the pigs.
The Schislers told the judge that they believe the pigs have been stolen, but they did not file a police report.
Schisler Jr.'s attorney, Daniel Green, said that Schisler Sr. has been searching for the swine at livestock auctions, and Schisler Jr. has been asking around about them.
Davis said he would hold a conference call with the attorneys in 30 days for a progress report.
"We're a long way from the end of this," Davis firstname.lastname@example.org