Mom Discovers Exchanging Recipes on Facebook Could Land Her in Jail
Food| | By Robin Milling
When Facebook was founded in 2004 their mission statement was “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” People have certainly interpreted that in numerous ways from posting everything about their lives to joining Facebook forums where they can indeed exchange ideas and share common values.
One single mother of six found out the hard way that not everything about sharing is legal.
Mariza Ruelas joined the community forum, 209 Food Spot, a Facebook space where Stockton, California residents could share recipes, organize potluck dinners and on occasion sell or exchange food items. Ruelas joined two years ago when she needed a last-minute cake for her daughter’s 15th birthday to celebrate her quinceañera — the Hispanic coming-of-age commemoration.
Once a month she would post offerings of her own food barters like “a tray of rice and beans in exchange for a birthday cake or her staple chicken stuffed avocados to those who requested it,” she told the Washington Post.
Then in October of last year Ruelas was contacted for a plate of her signature ceviche dish. Unbeknownst to Ruelas and the forum’s members, a sting operation was underway by undercover investigators in San Joaquin County, California who tracked the sales of food sold through the Facebook group. Kelly McDaniel, the San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney, told Fox 40 News that “selling any food not subject to health department inspection is a danger to the public and undercuts business owners who purchase permits to cook and sell food.” She claimed the 209 Food Spot Facebook group was sent a warning before charges were filed. Ruelas, along with several other group members, faced citations for two misdemeanors — operating a food facility and engaging in business without a permit.
Then in July she was summoned to court for allegedly selling ceviche on the internet.
Ruelas who was harmlessly helping out her fellow members never expected her ceviche would get her into any legal trouble, let alone a possible jail sentence. In a video she posted on Facebook from her interview with Fox 40 News she said, “Somebody would say I don’t have anything to cook tonight but I would love to buy a plate to save me all the work.”
The plea deal of one year of probation, a $235 fine and 40 hours of community service was accepted by at least six other members. But Ruelas refused to accept her plea bargain which was twice the community service, three years of probation and the $235 fine if she pleaded guilty to one or two of the misdemeanors. Maintaining her innocence of selling and exchanging meals through the group she told the Post, “We didn’t see any harm in that. There wasn’t anybody selling it daily. A lot of times, they were just getting back what they put into the ingredients.”
Ruelas has been out of work for two years so she decided to reach out to another social media community to help with her legal fees – setting up a Go Fund Me page. Ironically they have made the site unavailable. She wrote on Facebook, “It wasn’t easy to decide but I finally did it. I wanted to add that people were messaging me wanting to help pay for any legal fees I may have when this is all over but go fund me (sic) wouldn’t let me mention that or it wouldn’t post. So I edited it the best I could. I want to thank everyone for all the support! Please share on all post that you see people asking for a go fund me cause its quite overwhelming for me to keep up. Thx again.”
Posting on 209 Food Spot was an activity she enjoyed sharing with her children, ages six through 20, who helped prepare and deliver some of the dishes with her. Her mission to seek justice has taken a toll on them. When asked what goes through her mind about potential jail time, she quickly replied, “My kids.” On Sunday, Ruelas posted a text message from her 17-year-old daughter, Mariyah, on Facebook who avoided home when her mother made phone calls to her lawyer or to reporters about the case. The thought of her mom going to jail leaving her and her siblings without a parent was a scary one. She texted, “It worries me its scary thinking my mom might. Go to jail.”
Ruelas added in the Facebook post, “That’s just sad. I need this done already so we can just breathe.”
Only time will tell if justice will be served.