All charges against the former chief executive of Blue Bell Creameries were dismissed Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman.
The felony charges were dismissed after a motion hearing conducted by telephone because Pitman agreed the federal District Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.
Kruse, who was free on a $50,000 signature bond, was charged on May 1 of seven felony counts involving actions he took in the 2015 outbreak of deadly Listeria strain associated with Blue Bell facilities and products. He was to have gone to trial in August.
However, his defense team of Chris Flood and John Cline successfully argued that the U.S. District Court for Western Texas lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the felony charges because the Department of Justice (DOJ) did not obtain a Grand Jury indictment or a waiver by Kruse of his right to such an indictment. Instead, he was charged with an information filing that he did not accept.
The Western District did not have a Grand Jury empaneled because of the COVID-19 crisis.
Kruse, who retired three years ago after a long tenure as Blue Bell’s CEO, had pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy and six counts of wire fraud.
The DOJ is in somewhat of a bind because the five-year statute of limitations is running out on 2015 actions Kruse took in dealing with the outbreak that resulted in three deaths among ten illnesses in four states.
The dismissal does not change the corporate guilty plea entered by Blue Bell on May 1 to two misdemeanor charges that the company shipped contaminated ice cream across state lines during the 2015 outbreak. Blue Bell agreed to pay $19.35 million, the second-highest monetary penalty in history for food safety violations.
Kruse, now a free man, was looking upon conviction at up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of the seven felonies he faced.
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