AUSTIN (KXAN) — The former president of Blue Bell was charged Wednesday with wire fraud and conspiracy on allegations he created a plan to cover up sales of the company’s Listeria-contaminated ice cream in 2015.
An indictment filed in federal court in Austin shows former president Paul Kruse is charged with seven counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The DOJ said after Blue Bell was alerted to the Listeria contamination in February 2015, Kruse allegedly tried to deceive Blue Bell customers by asking employees “to remove potentially contaminated products from store freezers without notifying retailers or consumers about the real reason for the withdrawal.”
The indictment also alleges Kruse instructed Blue Bell workers to lie to customers who asked about the removal of products and say there was “an unspecified issue with a manufacturing machine,” the DOJ said.
Listeria can lead to serious illness or death in high-risk populations including pregnant women, newborns, the elderly and immunocompromised individuals. The DOJ said tests done in March 2015 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traced the Listeria strain found in one Blue Bell product to a strain that sickened five patients at a Kansas hospital.
Blue Bell closed its facilities to clean them after the recalls. Since reopening, the company has “taken significant steps to enhance sanitation processes and enact a program to test products for Listeria,” the DOJ said.
February 2015 – The indictment said Blue Bell was notified of two products from its Brenham, Texas, factory tested positive for Listeria.
March 13, 2015 – FDA, CDC and Blue Bell issue a public recall, according to the DOJ.
March 23, 2015 – A product made at another facility tested positive. A second recall was issued.
April 2015 – More positive tests led Blue Bell to recall all ice cream products, the DOJ said. Blue Bell closed its facilities to clean and update them.
May 2020 – The DOJ said Blue Bell pleaded guilty in a related case to two counts of distributing adulterated food products in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
Sept. 17, 2020 – Court ordered Blue Bell to pay $17.25 million. The company was ordered to pay an additional $2.1 million to resolve civil False Claims Act allegations, according to the DOJ.