Jensen brothers sentenced to probation, must pay restitution in fatal cantaloupe case
DENVER — Two brothers who owned and operated the Colorado farm tied to 2011′s Listeria outbreak that killed 33 and sicked an additional 147 were sentenced to probation and must pay restitution to victims, a judge ruled Tuesday morning.
Eric Jensen, 37, and Ryan Jensen, 33, both pleaded guilty to six charges in October. Both received probation for 5 years, 6 months of home detention, 100 hours of community service and were ordered to pay a total of $300,000 in restitution. All the money will go to the families of victims.
In the packed courtroom, many listened as both brothers stood and took the blame for the hurt they caused to so many people.
“To the victims, my most sincere apology,” said Ryan Jensen. His brother echoed that statement saying, “For this huge tragedy; we are very, very sorry.”
Prosecutors asked the judge for leniency in sentencing for this case because the brothers cooperated with federal investigators and had a meeting with victims.
Seven people, who represented family members who died, spoke at Tuesday’s sentencing hearing — four from the same family. While many wanted the brothers to serve only probation, the family of Dr. Michael Hauser, wanted them to serve jail time.
“I am very bitter,” said Penny Hauser, who lost her husband on his 69th birthday. “I bought the cantaloupe and fed him the cantaloupe and he died,” she said, wiping back tears as she spoke to the judge.
She said the brothers’ sorry came too late and disagreed with the judges sentencing.
“The Jensen brothers should feel the isolation that our family has felt for the last two years by not having our father, our husband, grandfather with us; they need to experience that pain,” Hauser said.
The six federal charges against the Jensen brothers stemmed from the implementation of a new cleaning system at the farm in May 2011.
According to court documents cited by U.S. Attorney John F. Walsh’s office, the new system was intended to clean potatoes and included a catch pan where a chlorine spray could be used to clean bacteria off the passing fruit.
“The chlorine spray, however, was never used,” Walsh’s office wrote. “The defendants were aware that their cantaloupes could be contaminated with harmful bacteria if not sufficiently washed. The chlorine spray, if used, would have reduced the risk of microbial contamination of the fruit.”
The judge could have fined the brothers, but opted not to in this case. He said that money would have gone back to the government and right now the families need the money.
The brothers’ declined to comment about Tuesday’s sentencing. The brothers are suing PrimusLabs, the company they hired to audit the land and packing house. In court the attorney’s representing the brothers said any money won in the case will go directly to the families.