- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 29, 2006

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — A woman and her adult son have been convicted of trying to extort money from the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain by claiming they found a dead mouse in a bowl of soup while celebrating Mother’s Day in 2004.

A Newport News Circuit Court jury deliberated nearly four hours Friday before convicting Carla Patterson, 38, and Ricky Patterson, 22, of conspiracy to commit extortion. Cracker Barrel officials said the Pattersons had sought $500,000 from the company.

The Hampton residents faced up to 10 years in prison, but the jury recommended sentences of one year and fines of $2,500 each. Sentencing was scheduled for July 5.

The defendants maintained their innocence, claiming Cracker Barrel officials offered them money to make the bad publicity go away. They wept when the verdict was read.

Carla Patterson claimed she had already eaten some of her vegetable soup on May 8, 2004, the day before Mother’s Day, when she scooped up the small mouse. The incident prompted Cracker Barrel to temporarily stop serving vegetable soup at its roughly 500 stores nationwide.

Charges were filed after a necropsy showed the mouse died of a fractured skull. It had no soup in its lungs and had not been cooked — signs that the rodent was dropped into the soup after its death.

A Cracker Barrel official said the stunt was devastating for employees of the Newport News restaurant.

“They worked for 12 years to earn trust in this community, and it was compromised by a scam,” said Jim Taylor, marketing communications manager for the Lebanon, Tenn.-based chain. “These people lost their dignity and their pride, and they’ve worked hard for two years to get it back.”

Restaurant employee Debra Ann Upshaw said she lost more than her pride. Her work week was cut from five days to one or two because of the incident’s effect on business, she said, causing her family to lose the mobile home they were working to buy.

“We couldn’t get an apartment anywhere because losing the trailer went on our credit, and we’ve been staying in a motel,” Mrs. Upshaw testified. She and her disabled husband, two of their children and a 14-month-old granddaughter are still living in the motel, Mrs. Upshaw said.

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