LOS ANGELES — A Stockton woman charged with selling her homemade ceviche through a community Facebook group could face up to a year in jail, according to court records, after she says she refused a plea deal offered by prosecutors.
Mariza Ruelas is charged with misdemeanor counts of operating a food facility and a business without proper permits in San Joaquin County, which could lead to fines and up to a year in jail, online court records show.
In an interview with KTXL-TV, the single mother of six said that she and several others who are part of the online food group, designated the “209 Food Spot” because of Stockton’s area code, were targeted by an undercover San Joaquin County investigator.
The investigator posed as a customer and asked for a plate of Ruelas’ homemade ceviche, KTXL reported. Ceviche is a Latin American dish of citrus-marinated raw fish or seafood served cold.
The sting led to Ruelas and several other group members being cited with misdemeanors for not having the proper permits.
But Ruelas contended that the group isn’t so much an online business as much as it is community members sharing recipes, organizing potlucks and recovering some of the expenses it takes to cook their meals.
“Somebody would be like, ‘Oh, I don’t have anything to trade you but I would love to buy a plate,’ like they’d be off to work,” Ruelas told KTXL.
On a Facebook post last week, Ruelas said that the other group members were offered a sentence of one year’s probation, 40 hours of community service and a $235 fine if they agreed to plead guilty to a single misdemeanor. Ruelas claimed her offer was three years’ probation and 80 hours of community service along with the fine.
“I gave the same food away that I fed to my family never would I bring them any harm,” she wrote.
She said she researched state permits but most apply to baked goods, not ceviche, and not to small community groups like the one she’s with on Facebook.
“It’s a waste of time and resources and taxpayers money who honestly would prefer the groups food over the restaurant,” she wrote.
In an interview with KTXL, Deputy District Attorney Kelly McDaniel defended the prosecution.
“I don’t write the laws, I enforce them, and the Legislature has felt that this is a crime,” she told KTXL. “Food prepared in a facility that has not been inspected creates a risk to the public.”
Ruelas has started a GoFundMe page since her story gained traction in the media, she wrote on Facebook.
“Never in a million years did I ever imagine that things would get this bad. It was a hobby my girls and I enjoyed doing together on a free weekend,” she wrote. “I will definitely be looking into opening a small restaurant after all this is done & over with especially with all the people’s encouragement. I will do my best to serve you my signature dishes!”
Ruelas and McDaniel did not immediately return requests for comment.