Federal Judge Robert Pitman today will conduct a telephonic pre-trial conference in the case of the United States versus Paul Kruse.

Kruse, 66, of Brenham, TX, is the retired president of Blue Bell Creameries and the only individual facing felony charges related to a 2015 listeriosis outbreak traced to ice cream made by the company. His trial in the U.S. District Court of the Texas Western District is scheduled to begin in Austin in 68 days.

Today’s pre-trial hearing did not mention any specific issue, but judges often use such status conferences to prepare for trials.

Friday, Jan. 7, is the deadline for attorneys to file pre-trial motions to exclude expert witnesses, which could require “Daubert” hearings before the trial starts. Responses to any Daubert challenges are due on Jan. 21.

On Oct. 20, 2020, a federal Grand Jury released a criminal indictment, charging Kruse with conspiracy and six counts of fraud.

That indictment said Kruse “did knowingly and willfully combine, conspire, confederate and agreed with others known and unknown, to commit offenses against the United States.” The conspiracy indictment says Kruse and “others known and unknown.” were participants in the same scheme. Company emails are evidence for the six fraud charges.

The 2015 listeriosis outbreak led to the removal of all Blue Bell products from all of its production facilities, including ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet, and frozen snacks.

Ten people with listeriosis were associated with the outbreak from four states: Arizona (1), Kansas (5), Oklahoma (1), and Texas (3). Kansas reported three deaths. All of the other sick people required hospital care.

As a corporate entity, Blue Bell pleaded guilty in 2020 in a related case to two counts of distributing adulterated food products in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

The company 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 unsanitary 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 to resolve a food safety matter.

It was not until the 1980s that Blue Bell ice cream was available outside Texas. It is currently distributed in 22 states.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)