Felony charges against former Blue Bell Creameries CEO dismissed after 2015 listeria outbreak

HOUSTON – The criminal case against former Blue Bell Creameries CEO Paul Kruse has melted. 

In May, Kruse was charged with seven felonies including conspiracy, wire fraud and attempted wire fraud in the 2015 listeria outbreak that killed multiple people. Channel 2 Investigates learned Wednesday that those charges have all been dismissed by a federal judge in Austin. Had he been convicted, his charges carried a potential 20 year federal prison sentence and a $250,000 fine on each convicted charge.

The judge dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. It’s been a rocky road for Kruse since the outbreak and he previously pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of distributing adulterated ice cream products.

“Mr. Kruse appreciates the Court’s decision to grant his motion to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction. We believe any additional attempts to charge Mr. Kruse will be untimely. Hopefully, the federal government can re-allocate their resources to more pressing matters during these trying times,” Kruse’s lawyer Chris Flood wrote in a statement Wednesday.

What happened?

In 2010, a Blue Bell quality control employee formed a meeting with other Blue Bell employees and plant management to discuss “condensate and (roof) leak concerns in all facilities” noted in government agency inspections. According to officials, Kruse knew of these problems but he and Blue Bell failed to correct roof leaks, condensate problems and other sanitary conditions that continued at Brenhan Facility and Broken Arrow Facility until 2015.

In 2011, a Blue Bell quality control employee created a program to periodically test Blue Bell finished product with high coliform results, which is used as an indicator of the sanitary conditions of the manufacturing facilities. According to court records, Kruse was informed about the presumptive positive liter testing and ordered the Blue Bell quality control to stop the further testing and instructed another Blue Bell quality control employee to destroy hard copy and electronic records of the presumptive positive product test results.

In March 2015, the FDA conducted a test on one of the Blue Bell ice cream products, which linked the listeria strain to five patients who were hospitalized in Kansas for listeria by ingesting contaminated food. That same month, the FDA, CDC and Blue Bell all issued public recall notifications on March 13, 2015. A second recall was made on March 23, 2015 when subsequent tests confirmed listeria contamination in a product made at another Blue Bell facility in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

According to the CDC, a total of 10 people hospitalized with listeriosis related to this outbreak. Cases reported from the following states: One person in Arizona, five in Kansas, one in Oklahoma and three in Texas. Three of the people in Kansas who contracted listeriosis died.

“This settlement demonstrates the commitment of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and our law enforcement partners to hold companies accountable for failing to abide by important contract requirements,” said Robert E. Craig Jr., special agent in Charge of the DCIS Mid-Atlantic Field Office. “This case has been particularly concerning because of the disregard of basic food safety rules and the impact those actions can have on the health and safety of the Defense Department’s service members and their families.”

Where the company stands now in its sanitation process

Blue Bell was forced to temporarily closed all of its plants in April 2015 to clean and update the facilities. Since the re-opening of its facilities in late 2015, Blue Bell stated that it has taken significant steps to enhance the sanitation processes and conduct a program to test products for listeria prior to shipment.

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