(CNN) -- A U.S. federal grand jury indicted two Chinese businesses, a U.S. company and their top executives in connection with tainted pet food, which killed and sickened up to thousands of pets last year, prosecutors said.
The businesses and executives are accused of playing a role in manufacturing and importing a tainted ingredient used to make the pet food.
A 26-felony count indictment on Wednesday named Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., LTD (XAC), a Chinese processor of plant proteins, and its owner and manager, Mao Linzhun, who is believed to reside in China.
Also named were Suzhou Textiles, Silk, Light Industrial Products, Arts and Crafts I/E Co. LTD (SSC), a Chinese export broker used by XAC to export products to the United States, and 58-year-old Chen Zhen Hoe.
The businesses and their officials were charged with 13 felony counts of distributing adulterated food and 13 felony counts of distribution of misbranded food.
A separate but related 27-count indictment named ChemNutra Inc., a Las Vegas, Nevada-based company, and its owners -- Sally Qing Miller, 41, a Chinese national, and her husband Stephen S. Miller.
ChemNutra buys food and food components in China and imports those items into the United States to sell to companies, prosecutors said. Watch CNN's Eunice Yoon discuss what these companies are being accused of »
"In today's global economy, crimes that occur halfway across the world can seriously impact our lives," said U.S. Attorney John Wood of the Western District of Missouri in a news release. "Millions of pet owners remember the anxiety of last year's pet food recall.
"These indictments are the product of an investigation that began in the wake of that recall. We take seriously our responsibility to uphold the health and safety standards that protect America's food supply."
Sally Miller is the controlling owner and president of ChemNutra, Wood said; Stephen Miller is its owner and chief and executive officer.
They and the company were charged with 13 misdemeanor counts of distributing adulterated food, 13 misdemeanor counts of distribution of misbranded food, and one felony count of participating in a wire fraud conspiracy.
In a statement released by ChemNutra, the company and the Millers "deny in the strongest of terms the allegations by the Department of Justice and look forward to the opportunity to prove their innocence at trial. Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Miller had any intent to defraud or any knowledge of wrongdoing."
The indictments allege that more than 800 metric tons of wheat gluten were tainted with the industrial chemical melamine and falsely labeled to avoid inspection in China.
"From April 2006 through April 2007, ChemNutra and the Millers participated in a conspiracy to defraud the companies that purchased XAC-manufactured wheat gluten from them, by concealing material facts from those purchasers," the indictment said.
ChemNutra received the tainted product at a Kansas port of entry and sold it to their customers, who used it to manufacture pet food, prosecutors said,
The indictments said at least 13 shipments were made to the United States at a cost of about $850,000 between November 2006 and February 2007.
The next month, more than 150 brands of cat and dog food were recalled nationwide after the Food and Drug Administration learned that some pets were becoming ill and dying after eating certain foods.
"There is no coordinated national tracking system to monitor the number of pet deaths," according to Wood's news release. "However, consumer reports received by the FDA suggest that approximately 1,950 cats and 2,200 dogs died after eating contaminated pet food."
According to the indictments, SSC contracted with ChemNutra to provide food-grade wheat gluten, then entered into a separate contract with XAC to supply the gluten. However, melamine was allegedly added to the product "in order to make it appear to meet the required protein content specified in the contract with ChemNutra," the statement said.
"Melamine has a number of commercial and industrial uses, but it has no approved use as an ingredient in human or animal food in the United States," the statement said.
SSC labeled the wheat gluten inaccurately so it could avoid inspection, prosecutors allege. XAC allegedly did not declare the product as a raw material for food when it shipped the gluten to the United States. And, prosecutors allege, Sally Miller knew the product would not be subjected to mandatory inspection prior to leaving China and did not disclose this to ChemNutra's customers.
In its statement, ChemNutra noted that prosecutors were not alleging either of the Millers "knew of the presence of melamine or any other substance that would cause injury or death to animals.
"The Millers unequivocally support the government pursuing those with knowledge of the dangerous contaminants," ChemNutra said. However, it added, the Millers were "deeply bothered by the government's failure to make these important distinctions in its press release related to their indictment." E-mail to a friend
CNN's Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.