If charges against Paul Kruse, the former president of Blue Bell Creameries, are not dismissed, he will face a jury trial beginning at 9 a.m. on Jan. 11, 2021.
Federal Judge Robert Pitman has signed a scheduling order that sets Dec. 30, 2020, at 9 a.m. at the deadline for pending pretrial motions and the docket call in Courtroom No. 4 of the U.S. Courthouse in Austin. The first day of the trial will begin with jury selection.
In the scheduling order, Pitman gives the parties until on or before Dec. 28, 2020, to reach a plea bargain or plea agreement, which must be made known in writing to the court.
“No plea bargain or plea agreement entered into after this date shall be honored by this court without good cause shown for delay,” says the scheduling order.
Kruse’s “not guilty” plea will be entered today at his “virtual” arraignment. He waived his right to appear in person. He remains free on a $50,000 appearance bond that restricts his travel to Texas.
He is charged in a grand jury indictment with felony counts of conspiracy and six counts of wire fraud stemming from the 2015 listeria outbreak involving Blue Blue’s ice cream production.
Government attorneys have until Nov. 23 to respond to a defense motion to dismiss all charges against Kruse because the grand jury may have missed the statute of limitations deadline for filing the charges.
Chris Flood of Houston and John D. Cline of San Francisco, the Kruse defense team, said the “charges are barred by the statute of limitations.”
Kruse was originally charged with the same seven felonies in an “information” filing, but Flood and Cline were successful in getting them entirely dismissed. Unless Kruse waived his right to a grand jury indictment, which he would not do, the district court lacked jurisdiction to hear it.
The government did not oppose the dismissal but did return on Oct. 20 with the grand jury indictment reinstating the same seven felonies. Upon conviction, each count comes with a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
The 66-year-old Kruse, also an attorney, retired three years ago as Blue Bell’s longtime chief executive. Kruse is a resident of Brenham, TX, where Blue Bell Creameries is headquartered. It’s about 90 miles east of Austin.
The Blue Bell company pleaded guilty in a related case in May to two counts of distributing adulterated food products in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. It agreed to pay criminal penalties totaling $17.5 million and $2.1 million to resolve False Claims Act allegations regarding ice cream products manufactured under insanitary conditions and sold to federal facilities, including the military.
The total $19.35 million in fines, forfeiture and civil settlement payments was the second-largest amount ever paid in resolution of a food safety matter.
At issue in the criminal charges is Kruse’s role in the 2015 listeria outbreak, in which Blue Bell brand products were the source. A total of 10 people with listeriosis related to the outbreak were reported from 4 states: Arizona with 1, Kansas with 5, Oklahoma with 1, and Texas with 3. All ill people were hospitalized.
Three deaths were reported from Kansas.
On April 20, 2015, Blue Bell Creameries voluntarily recalled all of its products on the market at that point that had made at all of its facilities, including ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet, and frozen snacks. It also closed its production facilities in four states.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released the critical findings from recent inspections at the Blue Bell production facilities on May 7, 2015.
Listeriosis is a life-threatening infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium (germ) Listeria monocytogenes (Listeria). People at high risk for listeriosis include pregnant women and newborns, adults 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems.