November 23, 2020

Former Blue Bell President Charged in Connection with 2015 Listeria Issue

A Texas grand jury has charged a former Blue Bell Creameries president with wire fraud and conspiracy in connection with an alleged scheme to cover up the company’s sales of Listeria monocytogenes contaminated ice cream in 2015, according to the Justice Department. The indictment was filed in federal court in Austin, Texas.

Former Blue Bell President Charged in Connection with 2015 Listeria Outbreak

The former president Paul Kruse was charged with seven counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The indictment states that when Texas officials told Blue Bell in February 2015 that two of their ice cream products teated positive for Listeria monocytogenes, Kruse allegedly tried to deceive some Blue Bell customers, according to the complaint, telling employees to remove potentially contaminated products from stores without telling retailers or consumers the reason for withdrawal. Allegedly Kruse told employees to tell customers that there was an unspecified issue with a manufacturing machine.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossart Clark of the Justice Department’s Civil Division said in a statement, “American consumers trust that the individuals who lead food manufacturing companies will put the public safety before profits. The Department of Justice will take appropriate action against those who ship contaminated products and choose not to tell consumers about known risks.”

The indictment filed against Kruse merely alleges that crimes have been committed.  All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

A deadly Listeria monocytogenes outbreak linked to Blue Bell ice cream in March 2015 sickened at least 10 people in 5 states. Three people died. Five of those patients were in a hospital in Kansas when they were served the ice cream. Blue Bell recalled all ice cream products in April 2015 after testing confirmed the pathogen’s presence in the Broken Arrow, Oklahoma Blue Bell Creameries facility.

Blue Bell Creameries pleaded guilty in a related case in May 2020 to two counts of distributing adulterated food products in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The company was sentenced on September 17, 2020 to pay criminal penalties totaling $17.25 million. In addition, the company agreed to pay an additional $2.1 million to resolve civil False Claims Act allegations about products manufactured under insanitary conditions and sold to federal facilities. This total amount of $19.35 million is the second largest ever amount paid in resolution of a food safety matter.

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