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Former Blue Bell president faces new criminal charges over alleged listeria outbreak coverup

Jonathan Stempel
·2 min read

By Jonathan Stempel

Oct 21 (Reuters) - A former president of Blue Bell Creameries has been indicted on wire fraud and conspiracy charges in connection with a 2015 listeria outbreak, five weeks after the company was ordered to pay $17.25 million in criminal penalties.

Paul Kruse was charged with seven criminal counts related to his alleged efforts to conceal from customers what the company knew about listeria contamination in some of its ice cream products, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Wednesday.

The Oct. 20 indictment said that after Texas health officials told Blue Bell in Feb. 2015 that some products had tested positive for listeria monocytogenes, a potentially deadly bacteria, Kruse ordered sales staff to pull the products from store shelves without telling retailers or customers why.

Kruse also told employees to tell customers who asked that there was an "issue" with a manufacturing machine at the Brenham, Texas, factory where the products came from, the indictment said.

Blue Bell ultimately began recalls after 10 reported cases of listeria were linked to its products.

Kruse's lawyer Chris Flood said he believed the charges filed with the federal court in Austin, Texas were brought too late under the applicable statute of limitations.

"This gives us an opportunity to explain what really happened in 2015, and we expect this to be resolved favorably once we are given that opportunity," he said.

Criminal charges that had been announced in May against Kruse were later dismissed, reflecting his not having waived his right to be indicted by a grand jury.

None was sitting at the time because of the coronavirus pandemic. Grand juries have since resumed operations.

Blue Bell, which is based in Brenham, pleaded guilty in May to two misdemeanor counts of distributing adulterated ice cream food products. It was sentenced on Sept. 17. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Bill Berkrot)