Felony fraud charges related to deadly listeria outbreak dropped against former Blue Bell CEO

BRENHAM, Texas – Seven fraud charges against the former CEO of Blue Bell Creameries related to a deadly listeria outbreak have been dropped after he agreed to pay a misdemeanor fine.

Paul Kruse agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act for being the CEO of the company when tainted ice cream products were sold in 2015, which were linked to the deaths of three people in Kansas.

KSAT sister station KPRC reported that Kruse also agreed to pay a $100,000 fine.

Kruse was originally charged with six counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a punishment of up to 20 years in prison for each count.

“I am grateful to all my friends and family, particularly the Blue Bell family, who have stood behind me during this difficult time,” Kruse said. “It was a long road to get here, but I am so glad I stood up for what was right.”

Prosecutors alleged that Kruse schemed to deceive Blue Bell customers by directing employees to remove potentially contaminated products from store freezers without alerting grocers and consumers as to why, the Associated Press previously reported.

They also claimed Kruse told employees to tell customers there was an unspecified issue with a manufacturing machine.

Blue Bell did not immediately recall the products believed to be tainted with listeria or issue a formal warning to customers about potential contamination.

According to the Associated Press, Kruse’s attorney, Chris Flood of Houston, argued that the original fraud indictment came too late under the statute of limitations. “Furthermore, the charges aren’t true,” Flood said.

The original felony fraud charges stem from a 2015 listeria outbreak. At the time, health officials notified Blue Bell that several ice cream products from the company’s factories in Brenham and Broken Arrow, Oklahoma tested positive for listeria.

Listeria infection is a foodborne bacterial illness. Healthy people rarely become ill from the bacterium but the disease can be fatal to unborn babies, newborns and people with weakened immune systems, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The tainted Blue Bell products that were recalled in 2015 were linked to 10 listeria cases across four states, including the three deaths in Kansas.

In May 2020, Blue Bell Creameries agreed to pay more than $19 million in fines and forfeiture as part of a plea agreement on two misdemeanor counts for shipping contaminated ice cream, according to the Associated Press. Prosecutors said the sum paid by Blue Bell is the second largest ever paid in a food-safety case.

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