Dad, son appeal to stay out of prison

Erin Jordan
The DesMoines Register
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Father-and-son egg executives have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court their Iowa conviction for selling adulterated food after eggs from their Iowa farms were linked to a 2010 salmonella outbreak that sickened thousands.

Austin "Jack" DeCoster, 83, of Turner, Maine, and Peter DeCoster, 53, of Clarion, filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court last week, after being granted a 13-day extension, according to online records. The Supreme Court decides whether justices will hear the case.

U.S. District Court Judge Mark Bennett sentenced the DeCosters April 13, 2015, to three months in prison for their conviction for introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. Bennett required the men to complete a year of probation and pay $100,000 each. Quality Egg was fined almost $6.8million.

The DeCosters paid the fines and restitution but appealed the prison time, arguing they were being punished for actions of their employees.

Quality Egg LLC chief operating officer Peter DeCoster (right) and his father, Austin "Jack" DeCoster, self-made titan in the egg industry, pleaded guilty to federal food safety violations stemming from a nationwide salmonella outbreak.that sickened thousands in 2010. Both DeCosters pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce and could be sentenced to up to one year in jail, fines of $100,000 apiece and additional restitution for victims. The company has agreed to pay a $6.8 million fine — one of the largest ever related to food safety.

Tony Wasmund, a former marketing manager for the DeCosters, admitted in 2012 to conspiring with at least one other Quality Egg employee to bribe U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors to release for sale eggs that failed to meet federal standards.

A panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which voted 2-to-1 to uphold the prison term, disagreed the DeCosters were blameless.

"Because the DeCosters were negligent, their liability is not vicarious," Judge Raymond Gruender wrote in the July decision. "Instead, they are responsible for their own failures to exercise reasonable care to prevent the introduction of adulterated food. The law is clear that a defendant can be sentenced to imprisonment based on negligence — or, for that matter, based on strict liability stemming from his own conduct."

The DeCosters, still free on bail, asked Sept. 14 for a rehearing of their appeal by the entire 8th Circuit, which includes 10 judges. That request was denied 6-to-3 on Sept. 30.

On Oct. 5, the DeCosters' attorneys filed a motion asking the appeals court to wait to sign a mandate— which would require them to serve their prison time— so they can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Appellants Austin and Peter DeCoster respectfully move to stay issuance of the mandate pending disposition of a petition for a writ of certiorari," wrote the DeCosters' legal team.

The men argued that because their prison term is so short, they likely would have already served it before the Supreme Court had a chance to decide on the case, which could make the court less likely to take the case.

A large egg-producing complex run by Quality Egg, which is owned by the DeCosters, is seen in this file photograph near Galt, Ia.

"A sentence that has been fully served can no longer be challenged. " wrote the DeCosters' legal team.

The appeals court granted the stay Oct. 11.

The DeCosters were to have filed their petition to the U.S. Supreme Court by Dec. 29, but filed for an extension until Jan. 10, online records show.

Salmonella causes diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps that usually last just a few days. But the illness is linked to 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths a year, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.