Next to being known as one of the nation’s top egg producers, Austin “Jack” DeCoster, 79, had a reputation for being involved in all sorts of protracted legal disputes, often ending in sealed settlements that left outsiders not knowing precisely what had occurred. Now that he, his son Peter, 50, and their Quality Egg LLC business are charged with federal criminal counts stemming from the August 2010 Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) outbreak that may have sickened as many as 62,000 people and led to the recall of more than a half-billion shell eggs, it looks like the DeCosters are going to settle this one quickly. Court documents filed Wednesday in the Northern District of Iowa state that both men and their company will make an initial appearance for arraignment and a guilty plea hearing on June 3, 2014, at 11 a.m. The DeCosters and their company are charged with bribery of a public employee, selling misbranded food, and selling adulterated food. “The court has been advised that the defendant(s) will be pleading guilty pursuant to a plea agreement,” says the scheduling order. U.S. Magistrate Judge Leonard T. Strand ordered government attorneys to provide lawyers for the defendants, with a final version of the plea agreement due two days prior to the scheduled hearing. They were told they have to comply with a standing order for plea agreements used by the district court and that time used for that work is excluded from the time the government has to bring a defendant to trial. The defendants waived their right for an indictment by a federal grand jury and accepted the charges based on the government’s filing of what is known only as “information.” All are signs that defense lawyers were in discussions with Peter E. Deegan, Jr., the lead U.S. attorney prosecuting the egg producers before the federal criminal action was filed. Lisa K. Hsiao and Christopher E. Parisi, trial attorneys with the Consumer Protection Branch of the U.S. Department of Justice, are assisting on the prosecution team. The possibility of a criminal case against the DeCosters and their company has existed since 2012 when farm manager Tony Wasmund pleaded guilty to a $300 bribe of a USDA inspector. He is cooperating with prosecutors under a plea agreement, which has also postponed his sentencing. It was in July 2010 that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) heard about a sudden spike in the number of Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) cases. The nation’s top food safety laboratories identified SE isolates with the PFGE pattern known as I JEGX01.0004. The unique pattern was uploaded to PulseNet, the national subtyping network involving all the state and local laboratories that also performs molecular surveillance of foodborne infections. That work quickly found that SE had been on the increase since May 2010. Because SE is so common, CDC had to sort out the background cases before identifying almost 2,000 that were definitely connected to a new outbreak. Because SE victims generally recover quickly and typically do not have themselves tested, the actual number of cases based on modeling programs was estimated at around 62,000. State labs in California, Colorado and Minnesota all tagged two Iowa egg farms as the source of the SE outbreak. Wright County and Hillandale Farm, both owned and operated by the DeCoster’s company, in turn recalled more than a half-billion shell eggs. It remains the largest recall of its kind in U.S. history. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) testing came back with positive results for SE from samples collected at the egg production facilities, including from manure, traffic areas, equipment and the common feed mill that served both operations. Few were surprised that DeCoster eggs were responsible for the outbreak. During his long rise to the point where he dominated U.S. egg production, DeCoster had become infamous for disputes, usually involving environmental and labor issues. In a September 2010 profile of him after the egg recall, Atlantic magazine stated that DeCoster “has left a trail of illness, injury, mistreatment, and death in his wake for decades.” A year after the SE outbreak, DeCoster announced that he was getting out of the egg business and selling production facilities in Iowa, Maine and Ohio. His exit from the industry coincided with enforcement of new, tougher standards for large egg production facilities by FDA.