STOCKTON, Calif. - A Stockton woman faces an impending trial and potential jail time after she joined a social media community food group and sold some of the meals she cooked, which San Joaquin County officials said is against the law.
Mariza Reulas was cited by San Joaquin County for selling an illegal substance, but it wasn't a powder, a pill or a plant.
It was her bowl of homemade ceviche, according to KTXL.
"It was just like unreal that they were saying you could face up to a year in jail,” Reulas said.
A few years ago, Reulas joined a Facebook group called 209 Food Spot – a forum she said where people from the Stockton area shared recipes, organized potlucks and occasionally sold what they cooked.
"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 of work," Reulas said.
On December 3 of last year, someone contacted Reulas, asking for a plate of her ceviche - one of her signature dishes.
That person was an undercover investigator from San Joaquin County, according to court documents, on a sting because the majority of 209 Food Spot members didn’t have permits to sell their food.
Reulas and a dozen others were cited for two misdemeanors for operating a food facility and engaging in business without a permit.
Reulas refused to plea down to three years of probation.
Now, the single mother of six is headed to trial and could end up in jail.
"I don't write the laws. I enforce them. And, the legislature has felt that this is a crime,” said San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Kelly McDaniel.
She said selling any food not subject to health department inspection puts whoever eats it in real danger, not to mention it undercuts business owners who do get permits to make their food.
She said the 209 Food Spot Facebook group was sent a warning before charges were handed down.
"Food prepared in a facility that does not inspect it creates a risk to the public,” McDaniel said.
Without a father in their life, Reulas said the thought of having to leave her kids scares her.
Every court appearance takes a toll on her youngest son, 6-year-old Justice.
"The night before, he always asks like 'Are you going to come back?'” Reulas said.
Of the people charged, Reulas is the only one whose case is headed to trial because she was the only person charged who refused to accept a plea from the district attorney.