Austin “Jack” DeCoster, 83, and his 53-year old son Peter DeCoster are not going to get their day in the Supreme Court after all, but instead are likely to spend their summer and fall taking turns doing 3-month prison sentences at the Federal Prison Camp in Yankton, SD.
The DeCosters had petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review their sentences, imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Mark W. Bennett and upheld in a 2-to-1 vote by an 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel. However, the U.S. Supreme Court Friday denied the petition, ending appeal prospects for the DeCosters.
Judge Bennett sentenced the two men just a little over two years ago in 2015 after they’d reached plea deals with the government over the 2010 Salmonella outbreak that required DeCoster family owned companies to recall a record 550 million table eggs. Under the agreement, the two officers of Quality Egg LLC each pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count, paid $100,000 in fines and agreed the family corporation would pay a $6.8 million fine.
Quality Egg LLC also pleaded guilty to three counts. including the felony of bribing a USDA egg inspector.
“Jack” Decoster, once thought to be the nation’s largest egg producer and Quality Egg’s chief executive officer, and his chief operating officer, Peter DeCoster, however, did not consent to jail time, which prosectors left up to Bennett. The Sioux City judge said unless Congress or the Sentencing Guidelines Commission told him differently, he was sentencing the egg men to jail.
At sentencing, Bennett recommended the Bureau of Prisons send the DeCosters to “FPC Yankton,” a former college campus that Forbes Magazine in 2009 called one of “America’s 10 Cushiest Prisons.” The stand alone minimum security facility is also known as a place where one can still pick up a course or two in accounting or business administration.
Bennett said he’d also be okay with the men doing their 3 months in an Iowa county jail that was acceptable to Bureau of Prisons. He also said the father and son could serve one after another to minimize disruption of their business activities.
The DeCoster appeal, which had gained some broad support from the business community, sought to limit when a “responsible corporate officer” could be imprisoned for “strict supervisory liability.” In such instances, although an employee commits the offense, the “responsible corporate official” can also go to jail for it. For example, there was no evidence presented to the District Court to indicate that either of the DeCosters had any advance knowledge of the bribery of the egg inspector.
Winning Supreme Court review is always a rare event just because more than 7,000 writs of certiorari are filed with the court for each session and only 100 to 150 are chosen. The 8th Circuit issued a stay on the DeCoster jail sentences Oct. 11, 2016. That will likely be lifted shortly and the case will be sent back to Bennett to carry out the sentences.
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