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Hudson Foods Indicted Over Recall

Hudson Foods Inc. and two employees have been indicted on federal charges of providing false information to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in what became the nation's largest meat recall.

The charges stem from the recall of 25 million pounds of ground beef in August 1997 that had been produced at Hudson's Columbus plant.

Hamburger produced at the Columbus plant had been linked to an outbreak of E. coli contamination in July, 1997 in Colorado, forcing a nationwide recall. The recall closed the plant, which was later sold to IBP Inc. of Dakota City.

The indictments handed up by a grand jury in Omaha and released Wednesday also accuse the Arkansas-based company, Brent Wolke of Columbus, NE, and Michael Gregory of Springdale, AR, each on one count of conspiracy in providing false information to the USDA.

Wolke was manager of Hudson's Columbus plant. Gregory was director of customer relations and quality control for Hudson.

According to the indictment, Gregory, Wolke and Hudson Foods falsely told representatives of the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service and USDA Office of Inspector General that the company had been able to link the tainted beef to a single lot.

But the grand jury found that the purported link did not exist because the meat produced on the days in question had not been sent to Colorado.

The indictment alleges that Wolke and Gregory knew this, but they told USDA investigators that the illnesses could be traced to that particular lot.

After purchasing the plant, IBP kept Wolke as Columbus plant manager. IBP spokesman Gary Mickelson said Wednesday Wolke had done a good job and would remain plant manager.

After the recall, Hudson Foods was merged into longtime rival Tyson Foods in a $632 million deal approved by shareholders in January.

"The company has no basis to believe that any mistakes that might have been made in the handling of the recall amount to actionable offense," the Hudson Foods subsidiary of Tyson said in a written statement. "Hudson believes it cooperated fully with the government during the recall period and withheld no information."

If convicted, Gregory and Wolke could be sentenced up to five years in prison and fines up to $250,000. Hudson Foods, if convicted, could be fined up to $500,000.

Written By Scott Bauer