Plea agreement brings closure to Blue Bell’s last case involving the 2015 listeriosis outbreak

Plea agreement brings closure to Blue Bell’s last case involving the 2015 listeriosis outbreak

For 890 days while the government prosecuted retired Blue Bell executive Paul Kruse, that European river cruise or summer in Tuscany wasn’t an option. This week, his U.S. Passport was returned to Kruse, marking the culmination of his plea agreement ending the government’s case against him.

It is also the last of all civil and criminal litigation resulting from the historic 2015 listeriosis outbreak, which found illnesses and deaths from the past associated with the iconic Texas ice cream.

The now-executed plea deal saw Kruse’s agreement to pay a $100,000 monetary penalty for pleading guilty to the sole count of introducing adulterated foods into instate commerce in exchange for dismissal of all felony charges by federal prosecutors.

Federal Judge Robert Pittman entered the final deal in the Western District of Federal Court in Texas in August on March 28. He sentenced Kruse to pay the $100,000 monetary penalty and dismissed the felony charges against Kruse.

“We have said from the very beginning that a misdemeanor was the appropriate result in this case, Mr. Kruse never intended to defraud anyone, said Houston defense attorney Chris Food. The Kruse attorney pointed out that last summer’s jury trial “resulted in a hung jury with 10 jurors voting for not guilty.”

Flood said the sentence that has been entered “shows that you can stand up to the government and the truth will prevail.”

Kruse plead guilty to a misdemeanor violation of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the same charge that Blue Bell as a corporation pleaded guilty to in 2020.

Conspiracy and fraud charges that were brought to a jury trial in August 2022 were not convincing to most jurors. The government only persuaded a couple of jurors that anyone at Blue Bell intended to defraud someone.

In the 2015 listeriosis outbreak, 10 people were sickened and three died.

The 10 confirmed patients were from four states – Arizona (1), Kansas (5), Oklahoma (1), and Texas (3). They all required hospitalization.

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

But Kruse did not act fast enough for government prosecutors who at the trial said disclosures of the listeriosis problem were withheld from customers and the public for too long.

Through “retrospective review,” 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 historic Pulsenet data for DNA “fingerprints.” including three previous deaths in Kansas where listeriosis was a factor, all occurred before Blue Bell knew of the outbreak in early 2015.

While no one is going to jail, the government with this latest $100,000 has collected a pretty penny from Blue Bell-related contributions.

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 under unsanitary conditions and sold to facilities, including four federal facilities including the military. At that time the total $19.35 million in fines, forfeiture, and civil settlement payments was the second-largest amount ever paid in resolving a food safety matter.

Kruse was the only person charged with individual criminal charges linked to the 2015 outbreak.

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