Former egg industry executive Austin “Jack” DeCoster and son Peter DeCoster pleaded guilty June 3 to misdemeanor charges of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. Meanwhile, the DeCosters’ company, Quality Egg LLC, pleaded guilty to charges of bribing a USDA inspector, selling misbranded food and introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce.
The charges stem from when the DeCosters sold eggs that were responsible for a nationwide Salmonella outbreak in 2010, which caused thousands of people to become ill. The outbreak also prompted the recall of 550 million eggs.
U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett has yet to decide the sentences for Jack and Peter DeCoster. They could face up to one year in jail, as well as pay fines of up to $100,000 a piece and additional restitution for victims, the Associated Press reported.
When entering its guilty pleas, Quality Egg agreed to pay a $6.8 million fine, which would be one of the largest fines ever related to food safety. It is up to Bennett to decide whether he will accept the agreement.
Federal prosecutors said they found no evidence that the DeCosters were aware they were selling tainted products, but that as corporate officers, they can be held legally responsible.
Quality Egg has admitted that former manager Tony Wasmund and another employee bribed a USDA inspector, who is now deceased, on at least two occasions. The bribes were made in hopes of releasing pallets of eggs that had been retained for failing to meet federal standards. The company also admitted that with Wasmund's approval, Quality Egg often put false processing and expiration dates on labels to make eggs appear fresher than they really were.
Wasmund cooperated with prosecutors under a deal and earlier pleaded guilty to a bribery conspiracy. He is expected to be sentenced in September.