This week, reports began to surface that felony charges had been dismissed in the case of a Blue Bell Creameries executive for his role in the fatal 2015 Listeria outbreak caused by contaminated ice cream products. The outbreak caused 10 illnesses and claimed three lives.
A federal judge reportedly dismissed the case against Paul Kruse—Blue Bell’s former president and CEO—who was charged 2 months ago with seven counts of wire fraud and conspiracy for his role in telling Blue Bell workers to hide their knowledge of the outbreak. Kruse, who never admitted guilt, was facing more than 100 years in prison if convicted.
A Bloomberg report states that “U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin, TX, said on Wednesday that the government had improperly brought felony charges against Kruse without obtaining a grand jury indictment. The charging instrument prosecutors used, known as a criminal information, was legally insufficient to support a felony trial without a waiver from Kruse, Pitman ruled.”
Bloomberg goes on to say that “Chris Flood, Kruse’s lawyer, said the U.S. had tried unsuccessfully for 5 years to get a grand jury to indict his client. Flood said prosecutors told Pitman they would continue to seek an indictment. He said a 5-year statute of limitations may bar them.”
Blue Bell was accused of distributing ice cream products that were manufactured under unsanitary conditions and contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, a violation of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. In April 2020, Blue Bell Creameries agreed to plead guilty to charges that the company shipped contaminated product. The company was ordered to pay a criminal fine and forfeiture amount totaling $17.25 million. Blue Bell also agreed to pay an additional $2.1 million to resolve civil False Claims Act allegations regarding the ice cream products manufactured under unsanitary conditions and sold to federal facilities. The total $19.35 million is the second-largest amount ever paid in the resolution of a food safety matter.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice—the entity that initially announced charges against Blue Bell and Kruse—declined to comment on these recent developments.