Jury trial begins in fraud and conspiracy trial involving Blue Blue, an iconic Texas brandAugust 3, 2022
AUSTIN — The timeline played the starring role during the opening arguments at the jury trial of the United States v Paul Kruse.
Department of Justice attorney Matthew Lash for the prosecution and Houston defense attorney Chris Flood opened the trial. Taken together, they suggested that a food company, during an investigation, can fully cooperate with FDA and state agencies but still face conspiracy and fraud charges if it does not respond with thorough responses to public inquiries that may occur.
Lash and Flood each spoke for about 30 minutes, directing their remarks at the newly impaneled West Texas jury, which includes four alternates among the 12 men and four women.
“This case is about profit, profit before people,” Lash said, just shortly after Judge Robert Pitman said: “The Trial will now begin.”
Lash said defendant Paul Kruse, grandson of the founder of the iconic Texas ice cream brand Blue Bell, was motivated only by money during a 2015 listeriosis outbreak crisis.
Kruse, while dispatching his company’s 1,000 sales-delivery trucks to pick up the “Country Cookie” and “Great Divide Bar” products that South Carolina tested for Listeria, was practicing deception, according to Lash.
Neither the drivers or inquiring customers were told about the Listeria during the early stages of the outbreak. Most were told about a mechanical problem and the need for testing.
The government’s charges cover about 60 days from February to April 2015. The period precedes Blue Bell’s recall of all its products and shutdown of its production facilities in Texas, Oklahoma, and Alabama.
Lash explained the government’s conspiracy and fraud charges Kruse is facing. “Paul Kruse did not have to send out these emails himself,” Lash said,
Flood countered by saying: “Hindsight is always 2020.” Flood said none of Kruse’s decisions harmed anyone. Within four and one-half hours of their first knowing about the problem, Blue Bell fully disclosed it on FDA’s Reportable Food Registry, he said.
Flood said the government is “cherry-picking” its evidence and warned jurors about how past sanitation issues might be played. He said the truth is Blue Bell has a long history of passing state, FDA, and independent audits.
Blue Bell, founded in 1907, did not have a recall until the 2015 crisis. “It begs the question, why are we here,” Flood asked the jury.
With the trial’s opening, the court disclosed two pre-trial agreements reached as pre-trial “stipulations.”
“These stipulations have been agreed upon to narrow the issues in this trial and to facilitate judicial economy, but both parties reserve the right to call witnesses to explain or testify concerning any of the materials referenced in this Stipulation Agreement.” The most extended agreement is about testing. In part, it says:
“On or about January 29, 2015, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (“South Carolina”) collected ten…