Friday was Bart Riley’s birthday. For the Butte meat plant proprietor, it was a pretty good one.
Rep. Greg Gianforte came to Riley's plant, Riley Meats at 134 W. Park St., to talk to Riley about his problems with the Food Safety and Inspection Service, recently detailed in a two-day series, "Through the Meat Grinder", in The Montana Standard.
The series, which also ran in the other Lee Montana newspapers, revealed that Food Safety and Inspection Service front-line supervisor Jeffrey Legg imposed conditions on Riley and other Montana small-plant operators that were not based in federal regulations.
As Riley discussed the history of issues he has had with the federal agency, Gianforte became visibly upset.
The congressman said, “This is outrageous, when a renegade federal bureaucrat makes up regulations and uses them to put a third-generation family business in jeopardy.”
At the end of his interview with Riley, Gianforte apologized to Riley and his family on behalf of the federal government and promised that “this matter is not over until there are repercussions for this behavior.”
Friday, Riley showed Gianforte a large stack of "NRs," or noncompliance reports, filed against his plant by FSIS inspectors on Legg's orders. Many were later rescinded. He also showed Gianforte a letter from an FSIS official informing Riley that at least six allegations of the agency's "willful harassment" and "intentional acts to intimidate, coerce or torment" Riley had been investigated and found to be true. The letter went on to say that no disciplinary action would be taken by the agency.
"Unbelievable," Gianforte said with a shake of the head.
Riley's wife Bretaigne, son Joshua, and daughter Julia were also present, as was Gianforte's wife Susan.
Gianforte asked Riley what bothered him most about the 12 years he's been in conflict with FSIS. Riley fought for control for a few moments then pointed to his family. "It's been difficult financially, but it's been hardest on them," he said.
"Josh told me this is my second job," Bart Riley told Gianforte. "I cut meat during the day and fight FSIS at night."
Also present was John Truzzolino, proprietor of Truzzolino Tamales in Butte, which was also targeted by some requests based on nonexistent regulations. But he said he has mostly been left alone compared to Riley, who Truzzolino said has taken the brunt of FSIS's displeasure at being challenged.
"Our plants have a lot in common," Truzzolino said. "They're both good, clean plants. But Bart here has had to deal with a lot more."
Gianforte and U.S. Sens. Jon Tester, a Democrat, and Steve Daines, a Republican, have all sent letters to the Department of Agriculture demanding investigations into Legg's actions against Riley and other plants in Montana.
Gianforte handed Riley and Truzzolino copies of his letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue Friday. He said the letter "is just the start. ... I'm going to see this through."
Of Perdue, he said, "There's a new sheriff in town." He said he accompanied Perdue on a Montana visit recently to observe firefighting efforts, "and I just spoke to him on Capitol Hill the other day. I'm confident" he will take the FSIS complaints seriously, Gianforte said.
Gianforte said that as a member of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Investigations, he is well positioned to seek an inquiry into FSIS's treatment of small plants.