Egg farm owner with Maine roots pleads guilty to contamination, bribery charges

Posted June 03, 2014, at 5:41 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — An Iowa egg farm owner whose business started in Maine has agreed to plead guilty and pay about $6.8 million in fines for selling contaminated eggs linked to a 2010 salmonella outbreak blamed for making nearly 62,000 people sick, according to consent agreements filed Tuesday in federal court.

U.S. Attorney Kevin W. Techau of the Northern District of Iowa announced Tuesday that Quality Egg LLC, operated by Austin “Jack” DeCoster of Turner, Maine, and his son Peter DeCoster of Clarion, Iowa, pleaded guilty to distributing contaminated eggs, altering expiration dates to hide how old its products were and bribing an inspector from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The $6.8 million fine is still subject to approval from U.S. District Court Judge Mark W. Bennett, who will also sentence Jack and Peter DeCoster. The two, who once ran operations that were among the largest egg producers in the country, according to Reuters, face a maximum sentence of up to one year in prison and a fine of $100,000.

Jack DeCoster, 79, had started egg farming in Maine as a teenager and expanded his operation to Iowa in the 1980s.

In 2011, following the salmonella outbreak, the father and son announced they would give up control of the business, which had recalled around 550 million potentially contaminated eggs.

That was not the first instance of corporate trouble for the DeCosters. In 1997, DeCoster Egg Farms in Turner paid $2 million in fines for health and safety violations, and Jack DeCoster’s ventures in Maine and Iowa faced other action from state and federal regulators for environmental and workplace violations through the 2000s.

DeCoster was allowed to expand his farming operations in the early 2000s despite accepting a settlement for claims that his Iowa hog farms had polluted rivers and streams. The designation as a “habitual violator” of Iowa’s environmental regulations banned him from starting any more animal farms through October 2004. DeCoster opened more farms during that time under a combination of corporate entities, including Environ Egg and Wright County Egg, according to a 2010 Associated Press report.

With the plea deal, DeCoster admitted that he was a trustee of a trust that owned Quality Egg, which also did business as Environ Egg and Wright County Egg, and that he exercised control over the companies’ operations in Iowa.

Both Jack and Peter DeCoster were released on bail Tuesday and await a sentencing hearing.

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