Paul Kruse has tendered his “not guilty” plea and waived personal appearance at his arraignment next week.
Kruse, former president of Blue Bell Creameries, signed the waiver and entered the “not guilty” plea on Nov. 4.
He acknowledges receiving a copy of the charging documents and reviewing the personal appearance waiver with his attorney.
Judge Mark Lane will arraign Kruse on Nov. 12 in the federal court for Western Texas in Austin. Defendants are permitted to skip arraignments as coronavirus precautions.
A federal grand jury in Texas brought charges against Kruse on Oct. 20 for conspiracy and fraud. The alleged crimes occurred during the 2015 listeria outbreak associated with Blue Bell products.
The government brought the same charges against Kruse last May 1 without getting a grand jury indictment only to see them dismissed by the court for lack of jurisdiction.
Federal courts in 2020 ceased most grand jury proceedings because of the pandemic. But Kruse would not waive his right to be indicted by a grand jury, forcing the dismissal of all charges last July.
Government prosecutors returned the same charges on Oct. 20 as a grand jury indictment.
Chris Flood and John D Cline, Kruse defense attorneys, are once again seeking to have the charges dismissed. This time, they say the 5-year Statute of Limitations has run out for every federal felony count the government has brought against Kruse.
They filed a motion to dismiss the indictment. Government attorneys asked for more time to respond to the dismissal motion. Federal Judge Robert Pitman granted the Department of Justice (DOJ) two extra weeks to respond by Nov.23.
The Magistrate Judge, Andrew W. Austin, also signed an order for DOJ concerning its “obligation to produce exculpatory evidence to the defendant,” sometimes called a Brady order. It warns the government that failure to do so “may result in consequences, including but not limited to, exclusion of evidence, adverse jury instructions, dismissal of charges, contempt proceedings or sanctions by the Court.”
The 66-year old Kruse, an attorney, retired three years ago as Blue Bell’s longtime chief executive. The U.S. District Court for Western Texas in Austin is hearing the case. Kruse is a resident of Brenham, TX where Blue Bell Creameries is headquartered about 90 miles east of Austin.
Blue Bell 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 fine, 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 (1), Kansas (5), Oklahoma (1), and Texas (3). All ill people were hospitalized. Three deaths were reported from Kansas (3).
On April 20, 2015, Blue Bell Creameries voluntarily recalled all of its products currently on the market 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 their newborns, adults 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems.
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