AUSTIN (KXAN) — The former CEO and president of Blue Bell Creameries is being charged for an alleged attempt to cover up findings of the dangerous pathogen Listeria monocytogenes in Blue Bell products from the public.
According to court documents, during his time as head of the Brenham-based ice cream company, Paul Kruse engaged in conspiracy to conceal information about potential and confirmed contamination of Blue Bell products and continued shipping those products after he was made aware of the contamination.
Charges also allege that other Blue Bell employees, some who are unknown, acted inappropriately based on Kruse’s direction. According to the court documents, one quality control employee was ordered by Kruse to stop testing for the pathogen after several positive test results and another destroyed records of the results.
Under these orders, Blue Bell deliverers reportedly removed remaining product that was in stores, but continued replacing it with potentially contaminated products — which, according to the court documents, Blue Bell had stopped testing. These employees were also reportedly told not to share any information related the events with customers.
Additionally, federal prosecutors say that Blue Bell never recalled the contaminated products, despite submitting documents to the Food and Drug Administration saying they were.
The documents also report that Kruse was aware of unsanitary conditions at at least two Blue Bell facilities and did nothing.
Other incidents reported in the documents say that one employee, at the direction by Kruse, visited a Wichita, Kansas, hospital and began removing possibly contaminated products from a freezer. When asked why they were doing this, the employee allegedly said there had been a manufacturing “irregularity.”
Prosecutors accuse Kruse of telling several employees to tell customers, including a Texas school district and a children’s hospital, that product was being removed due to manufacturing issues.
According to the documents, after the news of the contamination had been made public, Blue Bell left possibly contaminated products on shelves and then Kruse gave a statement saying that all Blue Bell products were “now safe and wholesome,” even though he knew the products were still on shelves and in facilities.
The listeria contamination led to significant financial losses for Blue Bell — and the hospitalization of 10 people and the deaths of three. Blue Bell was also ordered to pay a $850,000 fine.
Kruse is charged with criminal conspiracy and wire fraud.