TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KETK) – The U.S. Department of Justice has charged Paul Kruse, former president and CEO of Blue Bell Creameries, with conspiracy and wire fraud for the company’s handling of the 2015 Listeria outbreak that killed three people.
Blue Bell shut down production for a time in 2015 and recalled 8 million gallons of ice cream after reports of listeria started coming in.
In all, 10 people fell ill and three died.
Kruse, who retired from Blue Bell three years ago, is accused of participating in a conspiracy to conceal “potential and/or confirmed listeria contamination in Blue Bell products from certain Blue Bell customers,” according to federal prosecutors, who filed the charges Friday in U.S. District Court in Travis County.
Kruse is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and six counts of wire fraud, attempts to commit wire fraud, aiding and abetting.
According to the government, Kruse “knowingly and willfully” devised a scheme “to obtain money from Blue Bell’s customers by means of false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises.”
In charging documents, the U.S. government charges that “Blue Bell executives, including Paul Kruse, knew that appropriate practices top ensure sanitary conditions were not being followed or achieved at the Blue Bell manufacturing facilities.”
The documents cite a May 19, 2010, meeting convened by a Blue Bell quality control employee to discuss “condendsate and roof leak concerns in all facilities noted in government agency inspections, and state that “Paul Kruse knew of these recurring problems, yet Paul Kruse and Blue Bell failed to correct the roof leaks, condensate problems, and other insanitary conditions that continued at the Brenham Facility and the Broken Arrow Facility until in or around April 2015.”
The Justice department alleges that, with Kruse’s knowledge and approval, Blue Bell shipped products that contained high levels of coliform bacteria, “an indication of insanitary conditions in the production facility.”
As early as 2011, the charges allege, a Blue Bell quality control employee created a program to test Blue Bell products for the presence of Listeria. Over 10 weeks, according to DoJ, the employee sent approximately 12 samples of finished product with high levels of coliforms to an independent lab to test for Listeria.
“On or about April 13m 2011, Paul Kruse met with the Blue Bell quality control employee who created the Listeria testing program and another Blue Bell executiove and ordered them to stop testing products with high levels of coliforms for Listeria,” the charging documents state.
When two laboratory samples came back as presumptively positive for Listeria, “Paul Kruse again ordered the Blue Bell quality control employee to stop the program,” the documents say.
Another employee “destroyed hard copy and electronic records odf the two presumptive positive product test results” based on that instruction by Kruse to stop the testing program, DoJ alleges.
From February to April 2015, according to the documents, Blue Bell executives, including Kruse, learned from state and federal authorities as well as third-party lab testing that “samples of at least seven Blue Bell ice cream products made at two different Blue bell facilities tested positive for Listeria,” the documents charge.