Egg on their faces: execs will serve jail time for violations, salmonella outbreak

Quality Egg LLC (Quality), its owner, Austin “Jack” DeCoster, and his son, Peter DeCoster, the chief executive officer, were sentenced on April 13, 2015 for several related crimes involving the sale of contaminated eggs and bribery of a public official. The company is based in Wright County, Iowa. In a federal court in Iowa Austin DeCoster, 81, of Turner, Maine, was sentenced to three months in prison, one year of supervised release, and a $100,000 fine. Peter, 51, of Clarion, Iowa, received the same sentence. Quality was sentenced to a $6.79 million fine and also agreed to forfeit $10,000. All three defendants were ordered to pay restitution totaling about $83,000.

Salmonella outbreak

In the spring and summer of 2010, Quality distributed eggs that were adulterated with Salmonella Enteriditis. The eggs were linked to illnesses of more than 1,900 people in several states. As a result, in August 2010, the defendants recalled millions of eggs.

Course of conduct

At sentencing, the government told the court that Quality disregarded safety requirements and misrepresented its safety practices for several years. Since 2006, Quality had tested for salmonella in its barns and in the organs of laying hens, and the results came back positive on 47 percent of the days tested. The positive tests for salmonella became more frequent during the months preceding the recall. Yet, during the same period, Quality personnel used false documentation to conceal the safety issues from both regulators and customers and created safety plans with false statements about their biosecurity and pest control practices.

Quality also admitted that from at least January 2006, until August 2010, it deliberately labeled older eggs with processing and expiration dates that were several days to several weeks later than the true dates. It used several methods to deceive state regulators and customers and shipped the misbranded eggs to multiple states.

Guilty pleas

A former employee, Tony Wasmund, pled guilty in 2012 to conspiracy to bribe a public official and to sell restricted eggs and misbranded eggs with intent to defraud. His sentencing will be held in May 2015. The company pleaded guilty to bribing a food inspector to release substandard eggs without the required reprocessing and to introducing misbranded eggs into interstate commerce with intent to defraud. Austin and Peter DeCoster both pleaded guilty to one count of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, Kevin Techau, said, “Corporate officials are on notice. …Claims of ignorance or ‘I delegated the responsibility to someone else’ will not shield them from criminal responsibility.”