Friday, September 25, 2015

Jail Times for Egg Crimes

Written by Stephen Kenney
On June 3, 2014, Austin “Jack” DeCoster and Peter DeCoster pled guilty in Federal Court to their connection with the “distribution of adulterated eggs in interstate commerce.”  The father and son officially pled guilty to one count of bribery of a public official, one count of introducing a misbranded food into interstate commerce with intent to defraud, and one count of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce.  They were charged after it was found that a nationwide Salmonella outbreak was linked to their Iowa based company, Quality Egg LLC.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that nearly 2,000 people were sickened by the outbreak that was linked to the company’s eggs. They were sentenced three months in jail and one year of supervised probation along with fines.

The government’s memorandum regarding sentencing noted that Quality Egg had disregarded safety standards and practices for years and had misled major customers, including Walmart, about the LLC’s food safety practices.  On April 13, 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Mark W. Bennett sentenced the father and son to three months in prison and one year of probation. 

The family and LLC paid $7 million in fines in April, but are appealing the prison sentence.  The appeal will be heard by the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis.  The Department of Justice filed a 60 pagebrief on September 18, 2015, in support of the prison sentences.  The brief states that Quality Egg was “producing SE positive eggs” at a rate of contamination “approximately 39 times higher than the current national incidence rate.”  The barn facilities were also found to be extremely contaminated with “63 percent of the wash water, feed samples, feed ingredients and pullet houses showing widespread SE contamination.” 

The DeCosters argue that incarceration would be unconstitutional because neither man had any knowledge of the violations.  They argue that the sentences would be based on “strict liability” which would violate the Due Process Clause and the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.  The Eighth Amendment prohibits the government from imposing cruel and unusual punishments. 

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