Single Mother Faces Jail for Selling Ceviche on Facebook

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(Ceviche from a restaurant. Via Giphy)

A California woman with two small children is facing an actual trial and jail time for selling homemade ceviche on Facebook.

The situation is pretty ridiculous. According to Fox 40, Mariza Reulas is a member of a Facebook group called 209 Food Spot. Reulas says the group is for sharing recipes, holding potlucks, and sometimes selling what the members make. Reulas was apparently known for her homemade ceviche.

Where it gets weird is that an undercover investigator from the police infiltrated the group on a “sting” to catch people selling food without a license. That seems like an odd choice for a sting operation. But still, he did find what he was looking for. He asked Reulas to sell him a plate of ceviche, and she agreed. Now Reulas is among about a dozen of the Facebook group members cited for operating a food facility without a permit and engaging in business without a permit.

The police say that the group was actually given a warning about selling food on Facebook before anybody was charged, but the group members who were cited continued selling food. Reulas disputes that, though.

We should probably hold an intervention for people looking to buy ceviche on Facebook. People joke about not eating gas station sushi, but the sushi at the gas station is at least prepared in legal food-preparation facilities. Facebook ceviche is the new gas station sushi.

Unfortunately for Reulas, it sounds like she actually did what she was cited for. She prepared food in her home and sold it on the Internet without a permit. Now she’s facing up to a year in prison if she’s convicted.

On the face of things, this whole case sounds ridiculous. A year of jail for selling ceviche? But we have food safety laws for a reason, and Reulas did sell ceviche on Facebook, and according to police they gave a warning that was disregarded. And on top of all that, Reulas offered a way out of this. The DA’s office just wanted her to take a plea deal like everybody else.

About a dozen people were caught in this sting and they were all charged with two misdemeanors, and they were all reportedly offered a deal where they could plead guilty to one charge in exchange for three years probation. Everyone else took the deal. Reulas is the only one who opted to go to court.

“It was just, like, unreal that they were saying that you could face up to a year in jail,” she said.

Misdemeanor probation in California basically just means she would have to not commit any crimes for three years. She reportedly wouldn’t even have to check in with a probation officer. After completing probation, it’s even possible to have the initial conviction expunged. It doesn’t sound like a particularly onerous punishment, and the other group members took the deal. But Reulas says she’s fighting because the charge is “bullshit.”

This seems like a bad hill to choose to die on. How do you go to court and fight a charge of selling illicit ceviche on Facebook when you sold illicit ceviche on Facebook to an undercover officer?

This actually sucks for Reulas’ kids, whom she is raising alone. Her youngest is six, and she says he’s terrified she’s going to jail. Every time she goes to appear in court, he asks if she’s coming back. That sucks for him, but really, nobody set out to send Reulas to jail. They wanted her to just accept the plea. Nobody wanted to waste time with this.

A year in jail is the maximum possible punishment for these charges, so Reulas would probably not actually have to serve that amount of time even if she were convicted. A fine would be reasonable, and nobody actually wants to take Reulas away from her kids. Still, the fact that she’s willing to go to court and face jail for this is an odd decision. There’s a reason everyone else in the group took the deal and just agreed to stop selling food on the Internet without a permit.