The former chief executive of Blue Bell Creameries, Paul Kruse, may plead not guilty in an arraignment by video Tuesday, June 9, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew W. Austin, according to documents filed June 2 with the U.S. District Court in Austin, TX.
The federal criminal case against Kruse was filed on May 1 and stems from the 2015 listeriosis outbreak associated with Blue Bell ice cream that sickened 10 and left three dead.
Documents filed by the court clerk say Kruse may enter a not guilty plea on June 9 by video if he signs a waiver for the personal appearance and arraignment and agrees to plead not guilty.
“The waiver must be fully completed, signed by you and the defendant, and filed not later than 4 p.m. on the day before the scheduled arraignment. Upon the filing of the waiver defendants and their attorneys are not required to appear at the date and time listed above,” according to the clerk’s office.
“Under current policy, the U.S. Marshals Service transports defendants in custody to the courthouse for arraignments unless a Waiver of Personal Appearance at Arraignment and Plea of Not Guilty is filed no later than 4 p.m. on the day before the arraignment setting,” according to the court clerk’s notice.
Once a not guilty plea is entered, the clerk said all pre-trial motions must be filed with the court within 14 days of the end of the arraignment.
U.S. District Courts are limiting “open court” appearances, even by criminal defendants, to slow the spread of the COVID0-19 virus. Kruse earlier waived his right to an initial personal appearance with the court. Documents, sometimes out of order, have trickled into the Western District’s electronic file since federal prosecutors filed the first criminal information in U.S. v Kruse.
Documents filed in the Austin federal court earlier this week said the Brenham, TX, resident was freed immediately after processing on May 28 on a $50,000 unsecured bond.
Kruse, who retired from Blue Bell three years ago, is charged with conspiracy and six counts of federal wire fraud involving the 2015 listeria outbreak linked to the ice cream company, which is based in Brenham, TX.
At the same time Kruse was charged, federal prosecutors announced Blue Bell, as a company, agreed to pay a criminal fine and forfeiture totaling $17.25 million. The company also agreed to pay an additional $2.1 million to resolve civil False Claims Act allegations about ice cream products manufactured under insanitary conditions and sold to federal facilities.
That total payment of $19.35 million is second only to the $25 million fine recently imposed on Chipotle Mexican Grill to resolve federal food safety violations associated with contaminated food the fast-food company served at several of its restaurants from 2015 to 2018.
In the bond agreement, signed by Kruse, the former Blue Bell chief agrees to appear when required at the U.S. Courthouse in Austin, notify the court’s pre-trial services if his address or contact numbers change, and provide a DNA sample if one is authorized.
Kruse also promised not to keep a firearm and restrict his travel to Texas unless he gets the court’s permission to travel out of the state. Travel to Mexico is prohibited.
With conviction or a guilty plea, Kruse could be sentenced to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of the specific federal felony counts. Judge Lane waived physical appearance by Kruse, and everybody else, from the defendant’s initial appearance because of the current coronavirus pandemic.
Kruse, himself an attorney, has retained defense counsel. He is expected to request a preliminary hearing on the charges.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)