Gluten-free Fraud? Trial for Man Accused of Selling Tainted Bread
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Celiac.com 04/09/2011 - A Durham, North Carolina man is currently on trial for fraud after being accused of deliberately selling bread labeled gluten-free that contained gluten, and which sickened more than two dozen people with food allergies.
According to a Wake County prosecutor, the man, Paul Seelig, owner of Great Specialty Products, repeatedly lied to customers about the ingredients in his bread. Seelig faces more than two dozen fraud charges for taking customers' money under false pretenses. Prosecutors plan to call almost 50 witnesses.
Prosecutor Evans told jurors that witnesses would include two dozen customers who suffer from celiac disease and gluten intolerance, and who became ill after eating Seelig's products, along with the University of Nebraska experts who tested the bread.
Evans said a former employee would testify that Seelig told her to lie to investigators about their operation, and that, during the State Fair, Seelig sent her and other workers to buy standard bagels at Costco and B.J.'s that Seelig's operation sold as gluten-free.
"What this case is about is misrepresentations built on top of misrepresentations that this defendant made to people with medical conditions," Assistant District Attorney Shawn Evans said Tuesday during opening arguments in the trial. "The consequence was that many people got sick."
According to prosecutors, Seelig knowingly misrepresented his bread as handmade, prepared in a dedicated gluten-free facility, and tested weekly for gluten contamination.
Defense lawyer Blake Norman of Durham says Seelig, who reportedly suffers from Crohn's disease and cannot eat gluten, is merely a businessman who was looking to offer "reasonably priced gluten-free products" for consumers who suffer from food allergies.
Norman also told jurors that Seelig would take the stand to tell his side of the story.
However, Seelig might face an uphill battle for credibility if his criminal past comes under scrutiny. He has spent time in prison for two separate criminal convictions, the first for grand theft in 1991, which sent him to prison for more than two years, and a second in 2002, when Seelig was convicted in federal court of wire fraud and sentenced to four months in prison followed by three years of federal probation.
If convicted of all the charges in the Wake County cases, Seelig, 48, faces at least eight years in prison if sentenced to consecutive terms.
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