The US Department of Justice announced on Tuesday that Quality Egg LLC, and its top executives Austin “Jack” DeCoster and Peter DeCoster have pleaded guilty in a federal court in Sioux City, Iowa in connection with distributing eggs tainted with Salmonella Enteriditis. The individuals admitted to bribing public officials and introducing misbranded eggs.
Quality Egg, the company that operates in Wright County, Iowa, pleaded guilty to one count of bribing 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.
Quality Egg also admitted that at least on two occasions in 2010, employees of the company had given a cash bribe to an Inspector of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The job responsibilities of the inspector included inspection of shell eggs at Quality Egg’s production facilities in Iowa. Quality Egg also admitted that its employees provided the bribe to influence the inspector to corruptly exercise his authority to release pallets of retained eggs without re-processing them as required by law.
The company also pleaded guilty to introducing misbranded eggs into interstate commerce and admitted that its employees affixed labels to egg shipments indicating false expiry dates with the intent to mislead state regulators and retail customers about the age of the eggs. The employees of the company mislabeled older eggs adopting a variety of techniques before shipping them to California, Arizona and other states. Sometimes, eggs would not be processed at all and kept in storage for several weeks, and then labeled with processing dates prior to shipments.
For bribing a public official, the company can face a sentence of probation for up to five years and a fine equal to the greater of three times the monetary equivalent of the thing of value given, offered, or promised as part of the offense, or $500,000.
The plea deal includes the forfeiture of a money judgment of $10,000 representing proceeds of the bribery offense. The other offenses also involve probation and fines.
For the top executives, the price they may have to pay for selling thousands of adulterated eggs to U.S. citizens includes a maximum sentence of up to one year in prison or a term of probation not more than five years, fines, and supervised release of up to one year.