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Published November 25, 2013, 11:00 AM

Lawyer: Listeria case farmers apologize to victims

Outbreak killed 33.

DENVER — Two Colorado cantaloupe farmers who pleaded guilty to charges related to a deadly listeria outbreak personally apologized Nov. 19 to some of the family members of people who got sick or died, an attorney says.

The meeting with Eric and Ryan Jensen, the two brothers who owned and operated Jensen Farms in Holly, Colo., was part of an agreement with prosecutors.

The brothers apologized during what William Marler, an attorney representing victims in lawsuits against Jensen Farms, described as a sober meeting at the federal courthouse in Denver. In turn, some of the victims told the Jensens about their loved ones who fell ill, he says.

“Everybody — prosecutors, the FDA — none of us had ever had a meeting like this,” Marler says. “It’s a tragedy for everybody.”

By agreement with prosecutors, the Jensens’ statements at the meeting cannot be used against them either in their misdemeanor criminal case or in numerous civil lawsuits that are pending, Marler says.

The listeria outbreak traced to tainted fruit from the Jensens’ farm caused 33 deaths and sent scores of people to hospitals. Officials say people in 28 states ate the contaminated fruit and 147 were hospitalized.

Eric and Ryan Jensen have pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor counts of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. The federal charges carry penalties of up to six years in prison and $1.5 million in fines. A sentencing hearing has been set for Jan. 28.

Marler says stores that sold the tainted fruit and inspectors who approved it should have also been at the meeting, but they weren’t invited.

“This isn’t just about the Jensens,” Marler says.

Eric Jensen refused to comment when reached by phone.