Austin “Jack” DeCoster, son Peter DeCoster, and Patsy Larson, chief financial officer for Quality Egg, are targets of a federal criminal investigation, the Bangor Daily News reported Wednesday.
The newspaper, quoting defense lawyers, said the trio would likely invoke their rights against self-incrimination if called before a federal grand jury in Iowa.
Quality Egg (Wright County Egg) and Hillandale Farms, which together recalled more than a half billion-shell eggs between Aug. 13 and 20, 2010, are blamed for 1,939 Salmonella Enteritidis illnesses that occurred between May 1 and Nov.30, 2010.
The two Iowa egg production facilities were the western edge of a DeCoster egg empire that stretched to Ohio and Maine. Son Peter ran the day-to-day operations in Iowa.
The existence of the federal criminal investigation came to light because it is impacting a separate civil lawsuit brought by the California cooperative known as NuCal Foods. In the civil action, the cooperative claims DeCoster knew his poultry operation had a severe Salmonella Enteritidis contamination problem, but did nothing about it.
Through their lawyers, the DeCosters and Larson have denied “knowingly” letting contaminated eggs get distributed.