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Two Felonies, One Misdemeanor Charged in Shell Egg Recall Case

U.S. attorneys in Iowa have charged the company and the man once known as “The Chicken King” and his son with two federal felonies counts each, including bribery of a public official.

Austin (Jack) DeCoster and his son, Peter DeCoster, were charged Wednesday in connection with the 2010 recall of more than a half-billion shell eggs associated with added cases of Salmonella Enteriditis then being experienced throughout the nation.

The Salmonella outbreak was sourced back to two Iowa egg farms owned and operated by the DeCosters. At its peak, Jack DeCoster’s egg empire stretched from Maine to Iowa, making him one the largest egg producers in the country (and earning him his former title).

Salmonella Enteritidis is a very common strain of the pathogen; however, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was able to identify 1,939 cases with an onset of illness from May 1 to Nov. 30, 2010, specifically associated with the recalled DeCoster eggs.

Charges have now been brought against the two men and their company, Quality Egg LLC, which did business in rural Iowa as Wright County Egg and Environ.

The bribery of a public official charge alleges that Quality Egg LLC “did, directly and indirectly, corruptly give, offer, and promise a thing of value to a public official with the intent to influence an official act, and to induce a public official to do an act and omit to do an act in violation of the public official’s official duty.”

Quality Egg is accused of the felony of offering or promising to give money to a USDA inspector at the defendants’ egg production facility in Wright County, IA, with the intent to influence the government employee to release for sale shell eggs that were being retained by USDA for failing to meet standards of the federal Egg Products Inspection Act.

The company is also charged with the felony of introducing misbranded food into interstate commerce with the intent to defraud or mislead. The misbranding of Quality Eggs being sold into interstate commerce occurred as early as 2006, according to charging documents. The company typically made the eggs “appear to be not as old as they actually were,” government attorneys said.

The misdemeanor count of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce is charged against both the company and the two men as individuals. The government’s allegation is that the defendants were responsible for eggs containing “a poisonous and deleterious substance” that rendered them injurious to health but were nonetheless sold in the nation’s marketplaces. Conviction on that charge carries a one-year maximum jail term and a $250,000 maximum fine.

A conviction on the public bribery charge would trigger forfeiture of “any property, real or personal, which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to such violation, including but not limited to the amount of $10,000, representing proceeds of the offense.”

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