A Sticky Situation

Former Blue Bell CEO Charged with Conspiracy for 2015 Listeria Outbreak

Paul Kruse, who retired in 2017, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

By Dianna Wray May 1, 2020

A sticky mess indeed. 

Former president and CEO of Blue Bell Paul Kruse has been charged with conspiracy for how the company handled its listeria outbreak back in 2015. 

The issue of listeria-laced ice cream first came to light in early 2015 when South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control officials randomly tested Blue Bell products and found listeria monocytogenes, as detailed by the Houston Press. Over the following months it gradually came out that Blue Bell had been producing listeria-tainted ice cream and other products for years, according to Food and Drug Administration records. At least 10 people got the disease—including a former Houstonian who ultimately settled his suit against the company a year later—and three died. As reports surfaced of people contracting listeria from the contaminated products across the United States, Blue Bell ultimately yanked products off the shelves, went into shutdown, furloughed most of their employees, and only survived in the end due to an emergency cash injection from Fort Worth oil man Sid Bass. 

And despite at least 10 people allegedly dying from listeria after eating Blue Bell, Houstonians and other Texans rallied round the brand and quickly forgot what had taken place. The U.S. Department of Justice, however, did not. Kruse and other executives are accused of having known about unsanitary conditions in their production facilities and of having failed to take any actions to remedy the situation, according to a 17-page indictment filed by the DOJ on Friday. Federal prosecutors have charged Kruse with wire fraud/attempted wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud as part of alleged efforts to keep customers in the dark and still purchasing Blue Bell products.

If convicted, Kruse faces a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a a fine of up to $250,000. "It was part of the conspiracy that Paul Kruse and other Blue Bell employees known and unknown concealed potential and/or confirmed listeria contamination in Blue Bell products from certain Blue Bell customers," the indictment states. 

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