A woman named Mariza Ruelas in California has landed in trouble for selling homemade ceviche and chicken stuffed fried avocado on Facebook without a permit to run food business.
The single mother could face three years in jail after law enforcement conducted an undercover operation on a local Facebook group where members used to share recipes, organise potlucks and sell dishes.
The misdemeanor charges of “operating a food facility without a valid permit” and “engaging in business without a permit to sell” have drawn widespread criticisms of California police and health inspectors and raise fresh questions about how law enforcement agencies use social media for surveillance.
“It’s unbelievable. They could be standing on the corner catching real criminals or drug dealers. It’s crazy that they’re sitting at a desk behind a computer ordering food,” Ruelas, 37, told a news daily
Prosecutors offered Ruelas a deal in which she would have been forced to plead guilty and complete 80 hours of community service, she said.
The mother of six, who first told her story to local news station, refused to accept the plea bargain, which means her case is heading to a trial.
In December, someone who contacted her through the group asking for ceviche turned out to be an undercover San Joaquin county investigator who conducted a “sting” on behalf of the district attorney’s office.
She and five other users of the page faced citations for two misdemeanors, but Ruelas was the only one to refuse to sign a plea deal. She said she would be happy to do community service and pay a fine, but she didn’t want a misdemeanor on her record.
San Joaquin County deputy district attorney Kelly McDaniel told the Guardian that Ruelas used the page to sell food after her initial arraignment, resulting in a total of four counts that add up to a maximum of three years and a possible fine of more than $10,000.
Facebook’s community standards bar users from impersonating people, but it’s unclear if the undercover investigator had a fake account.
The site’s commerce policies also allow for food sales, but the term of service require people to comply with local laws.
A Facebook spokesman declined to comment, according to The Guardian.