Blue Bell Creameries has agreed to pay over $19 million and plead guilty to charges that it shipped contaminated products linked to a 2015 listeriosis outbreak, and the company’s former president has been charged in connection with a scheme to cover up the incident.
This (Friday) afternoon, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the Brenham-based company agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts of distributing adulterated ice cream products. As per the plea agreement, Blue Bell will pay a fine and forfeiture totaling $17.25 million, along with an additional $2.1 million to resolve civil False Claims Act allegations regarding ice cream products manufactured under unsanitary conditions and sold to federal facilities. The Department of Justice said that the total $19.35 million in fine, forfeiture, and civil settlement payments is the second largest-ever amount paid in resolution of a food safety matter.
Separately, former Blue Bell President and CEO Paul Kruse has been charged with six felony counts of Wire Fraud or Attempted Wire Fraud, along with one felony count of Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud. The 17-page indictment was filed today with the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas in Travis County, alleging Kruse and other Blue Bell executives knew of unsanitary conditions at Blue Bell’s manufacturing facilities from as far back as 2010 and did nothing to stop them.
Kruse left his position as President and CEO of the company in February 2017, and left the board of directors in February 2019. The charges he faces carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
Blue Bell issued a statement this afternoon, saying since it restarted production in the summer of 2015, it tests ice cream products and delivers them to stores only after independent tests confirm they are safe. The company said it has implemented upgraded production facilities, training, safety procedures, and environmental and product testing programs. It also said it worked closely with federal and state regulators as it implemented comprehensive food safety measures.