The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Department of Justice has decided to drop felony charges against Paul Kruse, former CEO of Blue Bell Creameries, in the 2014 case of listeria in the company's ice cream that led to three deaths.
Kruse, who had been "facing seven counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud," instead agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge related to food safety violations and pay a $100,000 fine. Kruse was facing up to 20 years in prison if the original changes had stuck, but now will not serve any jail time.
The Journal writes that "a trial in Austin last year in which Mr. Kruse faced the Justice Department’s felony charges resulted in a hung jury. Prosecutors alleged he tried to hide what Blue Bell knew about the listeria outbreak and directed company employees to recall potentially contaminated inventory without telling grocers or consumers why.
"The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. A representative of Blue Bell on Wednesday said the company hoped the plea agreement between Mr. Kruse and the government would bring closure to a difficult situation.
"The company pleaded guilty in 2020 to two misdemeanor charges related to shipments of contaminated ice cream and agreed to pay $19.35 million in fines."
In a statement, Blue Bell said that "the settlement confirms what Mr. Kruse has been saying from the very beginning, no one at Blue Bell ever intended to defraud its customers, and we are happy that the government has reached the same conclusion."
- KC's View:
"Intending to defraud customers" and "not putting customers' interests first" are not exactly the same thing. Blue Bell may not be guilty of the first, but it sure seems like it was guilty of the latter.