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Hudson Foods Not Guilty

A federal jury Friday found Hudson Foods and one of its employees innocent of lying to government inspectors in the nation's largest meat recall.

Hudson's former director of quality control, Michael Gregory, embraced his wife and mother as they burst into tears when the verdict was read.

Gregory was accused by federal prosecutors of lying to inspectors who were at the company's Columbus plant investigating the 1997 E. coli outbreak. Attorneys for Hudson and Gregory denied there was any proof of wrongdoing.

Closing arguments were presented in the case Thursday. The jury left for the evening without reaching a verdict and deliberated again Friday.

In 1997, Hudson recalled 25 million pounds of ground beef from its Columbus plant after more than a dozen people in Colorado who ate Hudson burgers became ill from E. coli contamination.

Defense attorneys argued that the company presented the most logical conclusions to regulators that it could based on the information it had at the time.

"The government suggests Mike Gregory is some conniving, sinister liar," Gregory's attorney J.R. Hobbs said. "Mike acted in good faith."

But prosecuters said Gregory knew the theory he was pitching to the government was wrong but he stuck with it for a week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Sharp said in closing arguments.

Sharp said Gregory got caught up in a stressful situation, made a "colossal blunder" and continued to lie about it instead of admitting his mistake.

"No one, especially Mr. Gregory, stepped forward and said a mistake had been made and the information was wrong," Sharp said.

Gregory could have been sentenced to up to five years in prison and fined $250,000. Hudson Foods, which has since been bought by Tyson, could have gotten a $250,000 fine.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Warren Urbom dismissed charges that plant manager Brent Wolke lied to government inspectors during the recall. The judge also dismissed the charge that Wolke and Gregory conspired to lie.

The only charge left in the case was that Hudson Foods and Gregory lied to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Wolke still works at the plant under its new management. Gregory works for Tyson.