Saturday, August 15, 2015

Has Jack DeCoster, Maine's most infamous businessman, returned?

In yesterday's Portland Press Herald, I have the story of how the Maine egg farms formerly controlled by infamous serial rule-breaker Jack DeCoster have been sold to a company with deep past DeCoster links. Indeed, the owner of Hillandale Farms once ran afoul of Ohio regulators for hiding the fact one of his egg companies was actually controlled by DeCoster, who was reportedly forbidden to run egg operations in that state.

Indeed, Hillandale and DeCoster owned the Iowa egg farms at the center of the infamous 2010 salmonella outbreak that the US Centers for Disease Control estimate sickened 56,000 across the country. Here's an excerpt:

[Hillandale founder] Orland Bethel, whose Iowa egg farm was forced to recall 170 million eggs in 2010, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid testifying before Congress about the outbreak. The contaminated farm – doing business as Hillandale Farms of Iowa – bought eggs, young chickens and feed from the DeCosters’ Iowa egg farm and feed plant. DeCoster also was apparently an investor in the Iowa farm. A Hillandale spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal in 2010 that the farm and the DeCosters’ feed entity were “financially affiliated,” which allowed them to avoid state feed inspections. 

I've written about DeCoster a number of times in the past, including an expose in Down East Magazine back in 2011 (when Republican state legislators were pressing to pass a bill to loosen labor regulations at his Maine farms) and this piece for the Press Herald in April, when DeCoster and his son were sentenced to three months in prison for their role in the salmonella scandal.

It's unknown if DeCoster is still an investor in Hillandale, and unclear if he retains ownership of the Maine egg farms, which were acquired three years ago by Land O'Lakes in a ten year lease-to-own deal.

[Update, 9/2/2015: DeCoster does indeed retain ownership of the farms, as I reported in the August 25, 2015 edition of the Portland Press Herald, along with some other details of the deal.]

[Update, 9/2/2015: The Portland Press Herald ran this editorial Aug. 27 connected with these two stories.]

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