Jury selection in Austin, TX, for the criminal trial of the former chief executive of Blue Bell Creameries, is not likely to begin until 2022.
The government does not oppose a pending defense motion to delay the trial of sixty-six-year-old Paul Kruse until March 21, 2022. The new start date is four months and 13 days later than the current schedule, which has the trial beginning on Nov.. 8, 2021.
The Kruse defense team, Chris Flood of Houston and John Cline of San Francisco, are in demand with other trials. Flood has a jury trial starting October 4 in New York, and Cline has a jury trial in California with a January 24, 2022 start date.
Flood also says the additional time is needed to prepare for trial because “this case is voluminous.”
“To date, the government has produced more than 1.1 million pages of material,” Flood says in his motion. “Some of the material is of a scientific or technical nature that requires consultation with experts. The defense has been reviewing the material diligently, but more time is needed to ensure thorough trial preparation.”
Flood also said the government, on June 18, 2021, provided notice for 24 experts it may call. He said the parties are in discussion “to narrow the breadth and scope of potential expert testimony.”
“The defense needs additional time to review the reports of these proposed experts, to determine whether Daubert or other challenges are appropriate, and to consider the retention of potential defense experts,” Flood added.
The defense agrees that the additional time until the trial starts won’t count against the Speedy Trial rule. Flood has prepared the motion for Judge Robert Pitman of the Texas Western District. Usually, when the prosecution and defense agreed on logistics like a trial schedule, the judge goes along. But not always.
Kruse entered a “not guilty” plea on Nov. 4, 2020, to a charge of conspiracy and six counts of fraud.
A federal grand jury for Western Texas brought charges against Kruse on Oct. 20 for crimes that occurred during the 2015 listeria outbreak associated with Blue Bell products.
The government brought the same charges against Kruse on May 1, 2020, without getting a grand jury indictment only to see the charges 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.
Kruse, an attorney, retired four 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.
As a corporate entity, 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 the 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.
Blue Bell, including its officers and directors, have also faced civil actions by shareholders and insurance companies,, resulting from the outbreak.
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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