By RYAN J. FOLEY, The Associated Press Posted May 16, 2012, at 5:35 p.m.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Lawyers representing a disgraced egg industry magnate, his son and one of their company’s financial officers say their clients are potential targets of a criminal investigation into the 2010 salmonella outbreak that sickened thousands of Americans and led to a massive recall of their products.
In recent documents filed in a civil case in California, defense lawyers for Austin “Jack” DeCoster, son Peter DeCoster and Quality Egg Chief Financial Officer Patsy Larson say a federal grand jury has been meeting in Iowa to determine whether fraud or other crimes were committed in the production and testing of eggs.
Federal officials say at least 1,900 people fell ill — and likely thousands more — during the outbreak that started in July 2010 and was later linked to contaminated eggs supplied by Quality Egg and Hillandale Farms. Both companies voluntarily recalled 550 million eggs nationwide.
Regulators put most of the blame on Quality Egg, which did business as Wright County Egg, based in Galt, Iowa. Quality Egg, controlled by the DeCosters, sold chickens and feed to Hillandale and had more illnesses linked to its eggs. Inspectors discovered dead chickens, insects, rodents, towers of manure and other filthy conditions at both farms, and a congressional investigation found salmonella samples more than 400 times between 2008 and 2010.
Peter Deegan, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa, based in Cedar Rapids, said Wednesday he could not confirm the existence of the investigation. The office’s jurisdiction covers the rural area of northern Iowa where the farms are located…