Iowa Egg Barons Plan to Plead Guilty to Federal Charges

By Erin Jordan, The Gazette

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Four years after a nationwide Salmonella outbreak caused by contaminated eggs from Iowa, the father and son who own the egg company will plead guilty to federal criminal charges, according to court documents.

Austin “Jack” DeCoster, 79, and Peter DeCoster, 50, were charged Wednesday with introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail. They are expected to plead guilty to the charge June 3 in Sioux City.

Their company, Quality Egg, faces the misdemeanor charge, as well as felonies that include bribery of a public official and introducing misbranded food into interstate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead.

A trial information filed Wednesday in the Northern District of U.S. District Court alleges Jack and Peter DeCoster sold contaminated eggs across state lines for the first half of 2010.

The eggs “contained a poisonous and deleterious substance, that is, Salmonella Enteritidis, that may have rendered them injurious to health,” the trial information states.

More than 1,900 people across the country became ill in 2010 from Salmonella Enteritidis linked to tainted eggs supplied by Quality Egg, doing business as Wright County Egg, and Hillandale Farms, an Alden operation also managed by the DeCosters. The companies recalled 550 million eggs nationwide.

Iowa is the top egg-producing state in the nation.

The DeCosters apologized for the outbreak when they testified Sept. 22, 2010, before an oversight and investigations subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Prosecutors allege Quality Egg on at least two occasions in 2010, including April 12, 2010, offered money to a “public official with intent to influence an official act.”

On April 12, 2010, Quality Egg employees offered a USDA inspector $300 to release eggs for sale that had failed to meet federal standards, according to criminal charges filed in 2012 against Tony Wasmund, a former Quality Egg employee.

Wasmund, 63, of Willmar, Minn., pleaded guilty in September 2012 to conspiring to bribe an egg inspector. His sentencing has been rescheduled four times, leading to speculation prosecutors were using his testimony against the DeCosters.

The trial information also states Quality Egg knowingly sold eggs between Jan. 1, 2006, and Aug. 12, 2010, that were mislabeled to appear fresher than they were.

As part of the plea deal, Quality Egg has agreed to forfeit to the U.S. government any property or real estate “which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to such violation, including, but not limited to the amount of $10,000, representing proceeds of the offense.”

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