Judge Orders Charges Against Former Blue Bell President, Brought Due to His Handling of Deadly Listeria Outbreak, Dropped – For Now
After previously ordering Blue Bell to pay $17.25 million in criminal charges, with an additional $2.1 million for civil claims, charges were also filed against former president and CEO Paul Kruse. The charges were made regarding the 2015 Blue Bell Listeria outbreak, which caused at least 10 illnesses and 3 deaths – though some food poisoning experts believe the number is actually much higher. Paul Kruse faced felony charges for conspiracy in telling his workers to deny any knowledge regarding the outbreak, as well as seven counts of wire fraud, though he has always claimed innocence. If convicted, Kruse could have potentially faced over 100 years in prison.
As of July 15, 2020, charges against Kruse were officially dropped, according to Bloomberg News’ Laurel Brubaker Calkins. Pursuant to that reporting, Robert Pitman, a U.S. District Judge of Austin, Texas, ruled that the charges against Kruse were unlawful, declaring that a grand jury indictment was needed for felony charges. Pitman states that the government instead used “criminal information” as the charging instrument, which necessitates a waiver from Kruse if used for a felony trial.
Due to looming threats of COVID-19, prosecutors did not seek a grand jury trial – “for the safety of those involved.” Now, a five year statute of limitations may let Kruse walk. Prosecutors believe a six month grace period should be allowed due to the virus, hoping for an indictment even after the five years have passed.
Kruse’s lawyer, Chris Flood, believes the government should focus on bigger issues right now instead of the case against Kruse, also confident that the statute should bar them from seeking an indictment.
The Listeria outbreak of 2015, caused by Blue Bell creameries, generated a series of investigations into Blue Bell, including the production facilities. The investigations found unsatisfactory cleanliness standards, uncovering several food safety violations, such as traces of Listeria in product, workers not wearing proper protective clothing, and condensation dripping into open containers of ice cream. A number of Blue Bell lawsuits were filed in the wake of the outbreak. According to one listeria lawyer, “If Paul Kruse was cognizant of the dangerous food violations and the likely contamination with listeria, and he attempted to withhold this information from public health agencies and the consumers, then yes, he intentionally risked the lives of Blue Bell patrons for profit.”