(In eighth paragraph adds dropped word "comment.")
(Updates with court hearing information and case information)
By P.J. Huffstutter
CHICAGO, June 3 Quality Egg LLC and two top
executives on Tuesday admitted to selling substandard eggs
containing a "poisonous" substance and bribing a federal
inspector in a food-safety scandal that sickened tens of
thousands, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
The Iowa-based company, once among the United States'
largest producers of shelled chicken eggs, along with owners
Austin and Peter DeCoster, pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal
charges in connection with the massive nationwide salmonella
outbreak in 2010.
An estimated 62,000 consumers fell ill during the outbreak
after eating shell eggs tainted with Salmonella Enteriditis.
Quality Egg pleaded guilty to selling eggs mislabeled to
hide how old they were; giving cash bribes to a U.S. Department
of Agriculture inspector to approve and allow poor-quality
chicken eggs to be sold to the public; and introducing
adulterated food into interstate commerce, according to the DOJ.
The company admitted "its employees affixed labels to egg
shipments that indicated false expiration dates with the intent
to mislead state regulators and retail egg customers regarding
the true age of the eggs," according to a Justice Department
Tuesday's plea hearing was held in U.S. District Court in
Sioux City, Iowa.
The company has agreed to pay about $6.8 million in fines,
according to consent agreements filed in federal court. The
ultimate fine will be determined by the court at a sentencing
hearing to be set at a later date, according to a Justice
Attorneys for Austin "Jack" DeCoster, 79, his son Peter, 51,
and the company could not immediately be reached for comment.
The DeCosters also each pleaded guilty to misdemeanor
charges of introducing adulterated food into interstate
commerce. Each of the men paid the court $100,000, to be applied
The DeCosters could each face up to a year in prison and pay
additional restitution to people injured in the salmonella
outbreak, according to the court filings. Both men were released
on bond, pending a sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge
Mark W. Bennett.
Neither sentencing hearing has been scheduled, according to
the Justice Department.
The case is U.S. v Quality Egg, LLC, Austin DeCoster and
Peter DeCoster, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Iowa,
(Reporting by P.J. Huffstutter; editing by Andrew Hay)