By Sam Lewis
Duo charged with six misdemeanors connected to 2011 Listeria outbreak request to change plea
Eric and Ryan Jensen, brothers and former owners of Jensen Farms, have announced through their attorneys that a disposition has been reached in their case. As a result, the brothers have requested a hearing with the U.S. District Court in Denver to change their plea regarding their upcoming trial. The duo has been charged with federal misdemeanor crimes which connect them to one of the most deadly foodborne illness outbreaks in U.S. history.
The request to change their plea helps the brothers avoid a trial by jury slated for December. The Jensen brothers still need to reach a plea agreement with government’s attorneys, but all indications are that they are prepared to move forward. If the agreement is approved by Court, the duo will likely plead guilty to one or more of the six federal charges they face. In exchange for their admittance of guilt, they will likely face lighter sentences and fines than if they had been convicted by a jury. The Jensen brothers’ attorneys filed requests to plea change hearings and notices that disposition had been reached in the case on Tuesday, Oct 15. The hearing to change their plea will be held in Denver on Tuesday, Oct 22.
In late Sept, the Jensen brothers were arrested and charged with introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce, along with aiding and abetting — both are federal misdemeanors. The charges come from a Listeria outbreak in 2011, occurring in 28 states. The illness hospitalized almost 150 people, and killed an additional 33. Jensen Farms had installed a new system, designed for cleaning potatoes, which utilized chlorine spray to clean the company’s cantaloupes. Court records indicate the chlorine spray was never used, and the Jensens were aware of the potential ill effects of insufficiently washed fruit. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS) traced the strain which caused the outbreak back to the brother’s packing facility located in Granada, CO.
Details regarding federal plea bargains normally are not available to the public until they are filed with the Court. If the Jensen brothers were to be convicted by a jury, each brother could face a maximum of one year in jail and a fine of $250,000 per federal misdemeanor count. The agreement to change their plea is likely to guarantee the Jensens will not serve penalties close to the maximum allowed by law.
While there is honor in admitting fault and taking responsibility for actions that harm others, there is also blatant negligence that cannot be ignored in this case. Eric and Ryan Jensen took shortcuts to save their company time and money at the cost of the health and lives of nearly 200 people. The duo should face a reduced to sentence for coming clean, but the reduction shouldn’t be much due to the sheer severity of the situation.