Justices Won’t Review Sentences for Egg Executives

(CN) – Two executives of a national egg distributor responsible for a widespread salmonella outbreak in 2010 lost a bid to vacate their prison sentences after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear their appeal.

The Supreme Court on Monday without comment denied appeals from 83-year-old Austin “Jack” DeCoster, the former owner of Quality Egg, and his son Peter, 53, the company’s former chief operating officer.

Iowa-based Quality Egg, which operates outside of Iowa as Wright County Egg and Environ, sold eggs tainted with salmonella, leading to nearly 2,000 reported illnesses across multiple states and the recall of 500 million eggs.

Because so many food poisoning incidents go unreported, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimates that as many as 56,000 consumers may have become sick from the infected eggs.

An inspection of Quality Egg’s facilities by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in August 2010 found live and dead rodents and frogs in the laying areas, feed areas, conveyer belts and outside the barns.

In one building near the hens, manure was piled to the rafters and had pushed out a screen door, allowing rats into the building. Several rat traps were found on site, including one with a dead rat decomposing on it. Investigators found the barns riddled with rodent holes in baseboards.

Tests found that the company’s eggs tested positive for salmonella at a rate of contamination 39 times higher than the national average.

The FDA ordered the DeCosters to euthanize all of their five million hens, and filed criminal charges against them after finding that Quality Egg previously falsified records about food safety measures, bribed a government official to ignore problems at its farm, and lied to auditors about pest control and sanitation costs.

The company pleaded guilty to charges of bribing a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector, selling misbranded food and introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce, and agreed to pay a $6.79 million fine.

The DeCosters, individually, pleaded guilty in 2015 in Northern Iowa federal court to criminal charges. U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett levied fines of $100,000 each and sentenced them to three months in prison.

Last year, a divided panel of the Eighth Circuit affirmed the DeCosters’ prison sentences, finding the three-month terms are not “grossly disproportionate to the gravity of their misdemeanor offenses.”

The Eighth Circuit’s majority ruled that Judge Bennett did not err by finding the DeCosters to blame for their failure to take any measures to reduce the levels of salmonella found in environmental testing. The sentencing judge also properly gave substantial weight to their prior regulatory violations and their employees’ pattern of deceiving the FDA, the 2-1 panel ruled.

In an order released Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear the DeCosters’ appeal of the Eighth Circuit ruling, meaning the father and son will now have to serve their prison sentences.

Per its custom, the nation’s highest court did not comment on its denial of their petition for a writ of certiorari.

The Eighth Circuit issued a stay on the DeCosters’ sentences in October, according to Food Safety News, which will likely be lifted soon in light of the Supreme Court’s rejection of their appeal.

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