On March 7, at 6:10 a.m., a van and an SUV sit in adjacent parking spaces in the lot of a McDonald’s near the junction of the 101 and the 405 freeways, their rear lift-gates open.
Mike Engelman, the driver of the SUV, with the help of the driver of the van, loads something into the back of the SUV. Then Engelman, who owns Doheny Glatt Kosher Meat Market, one of Los Angeles’ largest distributors of kosher animal products, drives off, headed to Pico-Robertson to open his shop.
Almost exactly one hour later, in the parking lot behind Doheny Meats, the mashgiach (rabbinic overseer) from the Rabbinical Council of California (RCC), who had unlocked the doors to the store and the distribution center just 10 minutes earlier, is nowhere in sight. Engelman signals to an employee to unload the SUV. The employee takes out eight boxes, hundreds of pounds of unidentified meat or poultry, and wheels them into the store through its rear door.
This entire sequence was captured on video by a private investigator, and on Sunday afternoon, March 24, Rabbi Meyer H. May, president of the RCC, watched the video in horror. What he saw wasn’t just Engelman undermining the supervision of his agency; he also saw the rabbinic supervisor, who is never supposed to leave the premises, break with RCC protocol.
All this was revealed on March 24, the day before Passover. At sundown the following day, hundreds of local families would be sitting down to eat their traditional Passover meals featuring meat and poultry that had passed through Doheny’s doors.
May and his rabbinic colleagues at the RCC revoked Doheny’s certification. They also declared at the same time that all meat sold by Doheny Meats up until 3 p.m. that day could still be considered kosher.
The aftermath of this scandal is still playing out, but it has already rocked Los Angeles’ kosher industry in a way that hasn’t happened since 1990, when the RCC removed its certification from Emes Kosher Meat Products after a rabbinic supervisor found an empty box in the store’s dumpster that had come from a non-kosher poultry supplier.
This time the scandal implicates both Doheny Meats, believed to be among the largest distributors of kosher animal products on the West Coast, and the RCC, a prominent and widely trusted kosher certifier. As a result, the scandal could have far-reaching consequences.