An egg rancher and a top executive of his company have each been sentenced to three months in federal prison for knowingly distributing eggs infected with salmonella.
Austin “Jack” DeCoster, 81, of Turner, Maine, who owned Quality Egg, was sentenced to serve three months in prison to be followed by one year of supervised release, and fined $100,000. His son, Peter DeCoster, 51, of Clarion, Iowa, who was Quality Egg’s chief operating officer, was also sentenced to serve three months in prison to be followed by one year of supervised release, and fined $100,000.
Quality Egg was sentenced to pay a fine of $6.79 million and placed on probation for three years. All three defendants were ordered to make restitution in the total amount of $83,008.19. Quality Egg also agreed to forfeit $10,000 as part of its plea agreement with the government.
The defendants were sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Mark W. Bennett in the Northern District of Iowa.
Quality Egg had earlier pleaded 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. Jack and Peter DeCoster each pleaded guilty to one count of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce.
In plea agreements, the company and the father and son admitted that the company’s eggs contained Salmonella Enteriditis.
During the spring and summer of 2010, adulterated eggs produced and distributed by Quality Egg were linked to approximately 1,939 reported consumer illnesses in several states — a nationwide outbreak of salmonellosis that led to the August 2010 recall of millions of eggs produced by the defendants.
“The message this prosecution and sentence sends is a stern one to anyone tempted to place profits over people’s welfare,” said the U.S. Attorney Kevin W. Techau of the Northern District of Iowa. “Corporate officials are on notice. If you sell contaminated food you will be held responsible for your conduct. Claims of ignorance or 'I delegated the responsibility to someone else’ will not shield them from criminal responsibility.”
Prosecutors said that Quality Egg personnel had, for years, disregarded food safety standards and practices and misled major customers, including Walmart, about the company’s food safety practices.