After almost three weeks with almost no activity, the criminal case involving the United States v. Paul Kruse has inched forward.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Lane filed an order setting a telephone conference for the case. The conference apparently occurred on May 19, but no electronic summary is available on the U.S. District Court website for the Western District of Texas in Austin.
Kruse is the former chief executive of Blue Bell Creameries. He was charged May 1 with federal felonies of conspiracy and wire fraud. The charges are related to the 2015 multi-state outbreak of Listeria associated with Blue Bell’s ice cream production.
Judge Lane ordered Kruse and his defense attorney Chris Flood, along with U.S. attorneys, Pre-trial Services, the Probation Officer, and “any surety or custodian” to participate in the telephone conference.
There is nothing in the federal court docket to indicate whether Kruse has surrendered to federal agents or if he has been arraigned or posted any bond. Minute entry documents are not available electronically.
At the same time Kruse was charged, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said Blue Bell as a company is pleading guilty to two misdemeanor charges of shipping contaminated products across state lines. In conjunction with the plea, Blue Bell agreed to pay $19.33 million to settle with the DOJ.
Kruse is accused as an individual with federal felony charges of conspiracy with other “known and unknown” Blue Bell employees and six counts of wire fraud regarding email statements others made during the outbreak crisis.
Each count for which he might be convicted puts Krause in jeopardy of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The DOJ has sent two Washington D.C.-based attorneys to Austin to prosecute Kruse. Matthew J Lash and Patrick Hearn are both listed as lead attorneys for the government.
Hearn’s appearance in Austin is no surprise. It was widely reported when the federal investigation got underway in 2015, that Hearn was in the lead from the DOJ’s Consumer Protection Branch.
He was a key member of the 2014 federal prosecution team that sent Stewart Parnell and other managers of the now-defunct Peanut Corporation of America to prison for 62 years. In addition to that trail work, the government has won all appeals to date in the PCA criminal case with help from Hearn’s bat.
The 2015 Blue Bell outbreak involved illnesses of 10 people in four states, and they all required hospitalization and three died.
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