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Former Blue Bell Creameries CEO faces charges in connection with alleged listeria contamination coverup

A Texas grand jury charged Paul Kruse, Blue Bell Creameries’ former CEO and president, was charged with wire fraud and conspiracy in connection with an alleged cover-up of the company’s 2015 listeria outbreak, the Department of Justice announced on Wednesday.



text, letter: OVERLAND PARK, KS - APRIL 21: Blue Bell Ice Cream is seen on shelves of an Overland Park grocery store prior to being removed on April 21, 2015 in Overland Park, Kansas. Blue Bell Creameries recalled all products following a Listeria contamination. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)


© Jamie Squire/Getty Images
OVERLAND PARK, KS – APRIL 21: Blue Bell Ice Cream is seen on shelves of an Overland Park grocery store prior to being removed on April 21, 2015 in Overland Park, Kansas. Blue Bell Creameries recalled all products following a Listeria contamination. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Kruse, who served as the company’s CEO and president from 2004 to 2017, was charged with seven counts of wire fraud and conspiracy for an alleged scheme to cover up what the company knew about the listeria contamination in Blue Bell products, according to the Department of Justice.

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“We firmly believe the charges will be dismissed because they are untimely,” said Chris Flood, who represents Kruse. “We look forward to a jury hearing what really happened in 2015 and Blue Bell’s response to the unfortunate events.”

Blue Bell said it would be inappropriate for the company to comment on Kruse’s legal situation since he is no longer with the company.

According to the indictment, Kruse allegedly directed employees to remove potentially contaminated products from store freezers without notifying retailers or consumers of the real reason. Kruse instructed employees to tell customers who asked about the removed items that there was an “unspecified issue with a manufacturing machine,” the indictment alleges.

Blue Bell did not issue an immediate recall of the products nor did the company inform customers about the listeria contamination, according to the indictment.

“US consumers rely on food producers and suppliers to ensure the safety of the nation’s food supply.The charges announced today show that if an individual violates food safety rules or conceals relevant information, we will seek to hold them accountable,” said Judy McMeekin, associate commissioner for regulatory affairs at the Food and Drug Administration, in a news release.”We will continue to investigate and bring to justice those who jeopardize public health.”

The ice cream was linked to 10 listeria cases in four states and resulted in three deaths in Kansas. In May, the company pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors for distributing adulterated food products and agreed to pay $19.3 million in fines for shipping contaminated ice cream during the 2015 listeria outbreak. The company shut down all its plants in 2015 cleanings and updates, according to the news release.

Listeriosis is a potentially fatal infection caused by the germ listeria, which is found in soil, water, raw milk and some animals like poultry and cattle. Unlike many other germs, it can grow in the cold temperature of a refrigerator or in a food processing plant.

– Shannon Liao contributed to this report

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Ex-Blue Bell Creameries Chief Indicted Over Listeria Spread

AUSTIN, TX — A Texas grand jury charged the former president of ice cream manufacturer maker Blue Bell Creameries after accusations of a cover-up linked to sales of Listeria-tainted ice cream in 2015, U.S. Department of Justice officials said Wednesday.

The indictment was filed in federal court in Austin, according to an advisory. Former Blue Bell President Paul Kruse was charged with seven counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, officials said, after the executive was accused of efforts to conceal from customers what the company knew about Listeria contamination in certain Blue Bell products.

According to the indictment, Texas state officials notified Blue Bell in February 2015 that two ice cream products from the company’s Brenham, Texas, factory tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes, a dangerous pathogen that can lead to serious illness or death in vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, newborns, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, justice officials explained.

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Kruse subsequently was accused of orchestrating a scheme to deceive certain Blue Bell customers — including directing employees to remove potentially contaminated products from store freezers without notifying retailers or consumers about the real reason for the withdrawal — officials said.

The indictment also accuses Kruse of directing company employees to tell customers who asked about the removal that there was an unspecified issue with a manufacturing machine. The company did not immediately recall the products or issue any formal communication to inform customers about the potential Listeria contamination, U.S. Department of Justice officials added.

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

Judy McMeekin, Pharm.D., Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) added: “U.S. consumers rely on food producers and suppliers to ensure the safety of the nation’s food supply. The charges announced today show that if an individual violates food safety rules or conceals relevant information, we will seek to hold them accountable. We will continue to investigate and bring to justice those who jeopardize public health.”

Michael Mentavlos, special agent-in-charge of the Department of Defense Criminal Investigative Service Southwest Field Office, pointed to the importance of food safety for members of the military: “The Defense Criminal Investigative Service’s number one priority is the safety and well-being of America’s war fighters and their families,” the agent said in a prepared statement. “The results of this investigation are an example of DCIS’ determination to enforce food safety standards, as required by Defense Department contracts. These standards not only protect individuals, but are paramount to military readiness.”

The indictment, returned Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, further said the March 2015 tests conducted by the FDA and

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