In 2015, three people died and seven others were infected in four states in a listeria outbreak tied to Blue Bell Creameries ice cream. Now, a Texas grand jury has charged the former CEO and president of the company, accusing him of leading attempts to conceal the contamination. CNN Business reports Paul Kruse was hit with wire fraud and conspiracy charges on Tuesday, the latest development in a case that saw all of Blue Bell's plants temporarily shut down so they could be cleaned and updated. According to the indictment cited in a Justice Department release, after Texas state officials alerted Blue Bell in February 2015 that two of its ice cream products had tested positive for the listeria pathogen, Kruse set out to keep the issue quiet, telling employees to get certain Blue Bell products out of store freezers without filling in store owners or customers on the reason.
Per the indictment, Kruse told his workers to simply tell anyone who asked that "there was an unspecified issue with a manufacturing machine." Blue Bell didn't begin issuing recalls until mid-March 2015. The company pleaded guilty in May to distributing adulterated food products and agreed to pay nearly $20 million in fines. Previous charges against Kruse were dropped in July over a logistical technicality. "We firmly believe the charges will be dismissed because they are untimely," an attorney representing Kruse says of the new charges, per CNN. FDA regulatory rep Judy McMeekin disagrees. "US consumers rely on food producers and suppliers to ensure the safety of the nation's food supply," she says. "The charges announced today show that if an individual violates food safety rules or conceals relevant information, we will seek to hold them accountable." (Read more Blue Bell stories.)