A plea agreement frees the retired Blue Bell president from jail or another jury trial

In a plea agreement, government attorneys have agreed to drop felony fraud charges against the retired former CEO of Blue Bell Creameries LP for a 2015 listeria outbreak that led to three deaths. In exchange, 68-year-old Paul Kruse agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of food safety violations and pay a $100,000 fine.

Kruse will not have to do any jail time. He said that he is grateful to “all my friends and family, particularly the Blue Bell family who have supported me during this difficult time.” Kruse said that he was “glad to have stood up for what was right.”

“The settlement confirms what Mr. Kruse has been saying all along, no one at Blue Bell intended to defraud their customers, and we are happy the government came to the same conclusion,” the attorney said Wednesday. Defender Chris Flood.

The bottom line is that the plea agreement superseded the need for a second jury trial that was due to begin on April 10 and that the new misdemeanor offense superseded all felony fraud and conspiracy charges that first went to jury trial last year. past. That jury split 10-2 in favor of Kruse.

Federal Judge Robert Pitman declared a mistrial on August 15, 2022, after the jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict. Until a few days ago, the government intended to go ahead with a second trial. A final call was set for March 31.

While sealed, the plea agreement seems to erase all of that. The government is dismissing all fraud charges against Kruse, in exchange for his guilty plea to the misdemeanor, which will include a $100,000 fine.

The government’s misdemeanor filing adds some details to the sealed plea deal. Says:

“At all times relevant to this information, defendant Paul Kruse was president and CEO of Blue Bell Creameries (“Blue Bell”) and worked at the company’s headquarters in Brenham, Texas. Blue Bell’s sales, marketing, quality, and other departments reported to Paul Kruse.

ACCOUNT 1-21 USC §§ 331(a) and 333(a)(1) (Introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce)

” Between about January 1, 2015, and about March 13, 2015, in the Western District of Texas, Defendant, Paul Kruse, caused to be introduced and delivered for introduction into interstate commerce, from Brenham, Texas, to Lexington, South Carolina, Wichita, Kansas, and other locations outside of Texas, food, namely, ice cream products, that was adulterated: (i) within the meaning of Title 21, United States Code, Section 342(a )(1), because they contained a poisonous or noxious substance, namely Listeria monocytogenes, that made food unhealthy; and (ii) within the meaning of Title 21, United States Code, Section 342(a)(4), to the effect that they were prepared, packaged, and held under conditions in which they may have been contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, all in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Sections 331(a) and 333(a)(1).”

Each of the dismissed offenses threatened Kruse with 20 years in jail, but the plea deal removes that threat from Kruse for the first time since his 2020 indictment.

Kruse was charged with conspiracy and fraud for concealing information about a 2015 listeriosis outbreak. Ten people became ill and three died.

The 10 confirmed patients came from four states: Arizona (1), Kansas (5), Oklahoma (1) and Texas (3). All required hospitalization.

During a crisis of more than 60 days in 2015, Kruse eventually recalled all Blue Bell products and closed its production facilities in Texas, Oklahoma, and Alabama.

But Kruse didn’t act fast enough on government prosecutors who said revelations of the listeriosis problem were kept from customers and the public for too long.

Through a “look back,” the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found isolates collected from Blue Bell ice cream that matched illnesses with onset dates from 2010 to 2014.

This is historical Pulsenet data for DNA “fingerprints.” including three previous deaths in Kansas where listeriosis was a factor, all of which occurred before Blue Bell learned of the outbreak in early 2015.

A federal Grand Jury indicted Kruse in 2020 after a five-year investigation.

The Federal Court for the Western District of Texas, based in Austin, found that United States v. Kruse was “a complex criminal case.”

The government has hardly gone empty-handed.

As a corporate entity, Blue Bell pleaded guilty in a related case in 2020 to two counts of distributing adulterated food products in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

The company agreed to pay criminal penalties totaling $17.5 million and $2.1 million to resolve False Claims Act allegations regarding ice cream products manufactured in unsanitary conditions and sold to facilities, including four federal facilities, including the army. At the time, the total of $19.35 million in fines, forfeitures and civil settlement payments was the second largest amount ever paid to resolve a food safety matter.

Kruse was the only person to face criminal charges related to the 2015 outbreak.

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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
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