Another West Texas jury will be called next April for a second criminal trial of Paul Kruse, the retired Blue Bell Creamery president from Brenham, TX.
The first jury, empaneled Aug. 1 this year, was not able to reach a unanimous agreement, ending in a mistrial after it broke 10-to-2 in Kruse’s favor.
The second jury trial is the third swing for government prosecutors who are out to convict Kruse for his actions in 2015 involving a deadly listeriosis outbreak that shut Blue Bell down and required the recall of all its ice cream products then on the market.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) took the first strike at Kruse on May 1, 2020, when it accused Kruse of felony charges of conspiracy and fraud only to see them all dismissed because they lacked an indictment from a federal Grand Jury.
DOJ lawyers, however, righted that slip-up by Oct. 20, 2020, when they obtained a Grand Jury indictment of Kruse and filed it with the same U.S. Circuit Court in the Western District of Texas in Austin that dismissed their first attempt.
Then a couple of days before the first trial, DOJ dismissed one count of the indictment “in the interests of justice.” That left the conspiracy charge and fraud charges for the first jury to decide.
Blue Bell settled its criminal liability with the government with monetary payments, leaving Kruse as the only individual to face criminal charges because of the 2015 outbreak.
Blue Bell pleaded guilty as a corporate entity in a related case in 2020 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 collected to settle a food safety matter.
Kruse was president of Blue Bell Creameries until 2017 and will be tried for a second time on federal felony charges of conspiracy and fraud for allegations of suppressing some information about the 2015 listeriosis outbreak.
During the outbreak, 10 people were sickened and three died. The 10 confirmed patients were from four states, Arizona with 1, Kansas with 5, Oklahoma with 1 and Texas with 3. All were infected and required hospitalization. Three died.
During a crisis for Blue Bell of more than 60 days in 2015, Kruse ultimately recalled all of his company’s products and closed all production facilities in Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama.
But Kruse did not act fast enough for government prosecutors who said disclosures of the listeriosis problem were withheld from customers and the public for too long.
Through “retrospective review,” the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found isolates collected from Blue Bell ice cream that matched illnesses with onset dates from 2010 to 2014.
This Pulsenet data for DNA “fingerprints,” including three previous deaths in Kansas where listeriosis was a factor, showed all occurred before Blue Bell knew of the outbreak in early 2015.
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