When he makes his first court appearance tomorrow in Austin, TX, former Blue Bell Creameries President Paul Kruse will not be alone.
Chris Flood of Houston and John D. Cline of San Francisco, the defense team that got him off on the same charges in July, is again defending Kruse, the 66-year old resident of Brenham, TX.
This time, Kruse faces charges from a federal Grand Jury indictment for conspiracy and six counts of wire fraud over an alleged cover-up involving the 2015 listeria outbreak. Each of the seven federal felony counts carries a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
Kruse retired as Blue Bell’s long-time leader three years ago. He’s held a license to practice law in Texas for the past 40 years but made his bones in business.
Federal prosecutors filed the same charges as information last May, but Flood and Cline successfully argued the U.S. District Court for Western Texas lacked the jurisdiction at that time because their client had not given up his right to Grand Jury proceedings.
At 2 pm Thursday, Kruse will make his first appearance on the renewed charges before federal Magistrate Judge Andrew W. Austin. His defense team is ready to argue that under the federal statute of limitations, the Grand Jury charges came too late to be prosecuted.
The assertion that time has expired for any prosecution of Kruse involving events surrounding the 2015 outbreak was raised in the first court case but went unresolved when all charges against Kruse were dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.
Since the national emergency was declared in March for the coronavirus pandemic, federal courts have “stopped the clock” on everything from speedy trial rules to discovery deadlines. Whether a 5-year statute of limitations includes an off-switch for emergency periods will likely end up as an appellate issue,
Flood also says the charges against Kruse “aren’t true,” and the defense team is looking forward “to explaining what really happened in 2015 at Blue Bell.”
A summons ordering Kruse to appear was issued by the Magistrate judge on Oct. 21 and returned as executed the day. Judge Robert Pitman was assigned as the trial judge. During the previous case, Kruse remained free on a $50,000 signature bond.
Trial attorneys Matthew J. Lash and Patrick Hearn are assigned as the prosecutors by the Department of Justice (DOJ). Hearn successfully prosecuted Peanut Corporation of American executives in 2014.
The 2015 listeria outbreak sickened ten people in four states and killed three in Kansas. The listeria spread from inside Blue Bell and the 18-page Grand Jury indictment charges Kruse with conspiracy and wire fraud.
“Rather than send a public notification about the contaminated products to customers and consumers,” the indictment says, ” the defendant PAUL KRUSE ordered his sales employees to pul products from customers ‘shelves without disclosing the reason. Defendant PAUL KRUSE also created a written statement that concealed that certain Blue Bell products might contain Listeria Monocytogenes, and he directed his sales employees to give that statement to customers who asked about the removal of products.”
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