AUSTIN, Texas - A judge has dismissed federal felony charges against the former CEO of a Texas ice cream company in a case arising from a 2015 listeria outbreak that killed three people.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman of Austin dropped the case Wednesday against former Blue Bell Creameries CEO Paul Kruse because federal prosecutors did not seek an indictment from a grand jury and Kruse's attorneys said he never waived his right to a grand jury indictment.
Prosecutors said they bypassed the grand jury and charged Kruse by information because the coronavirus pandemic made it unsafe for jurors to meet.
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The charges stemmed from a listeria contamination that Blue Bell officials told federal inspectors it believed had spread through a drainage system at an Oklahoma plant.
The company, which is based in the central Texas town of Brenham, recalled products after its ice cream has been linked to 10 listeria cases in four states, including three deaths in Kansas.
Blue Bell agreed to plead guilty May 1 as part of a plea agreement to two misdemeanor counts for shipping contaminated ice cream, saying in a statement at the time that it "learned hard lessons" from the outbreak and that food safety is its "highest priority."
Kruse was charged May 1 with seven felonies alleging that he concealed what the company knew about the listeria contamination. From the beginning, his attorneys asserted that Kruse was innocent and that he and other Blue Bell employees, as defense attorney Chris Flood said, "did the best they could with the information they had at the time."
Messages to federal prosecutors and Kruse's attorneys were not immediately returned.