This electron micrograph from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a listeria bacterium in tissue.
This electron micrograph from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a listeria bacterium in tissue.

Officials with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Denver would neither confirm nor deny they are investigating the 2011 listeria outbreak related to cantaloupe from Jensen Farms, but there are reports the office is collecting information about victims.

The outbreak is blamed for 147 illnesses and 33 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An investigation by the Food and Drug Administration traced the listeria contamination to the Jensen Farms packing shed in Holly, Colo.

A number of civil wrongful death lawsuits are pending against Jensen Farms, which has declared bankruptcy.

The details of those wrongful death cases are apparently of interest to the U.S. Attorney’s staff because they have been collecting information, according to Seattle attorney Bill Marler. Marler and his law firm, Marler Clark, represent dozens of victims and their families, including the families of about 20 people who died.

About three weeks ago, representatives from the Denver U.S. Attorney’s office visited Marler’s office and requested copies of files on the death cases, Marler confirmed Aug. 14.

Patrick Ortman, an Omaha, Neb., attorney with Locher Pavelka Dostal Braddy & Hammes LLC, is representing the estate of Dale Braddock, an Omaha man who died after eating Jensen Farms cantaloupe. Ortman declined to comment on whether the U.S. Attorney’s office had asked him for documents regarding the Braddock case.

Paul Farley, a spokesman for the Denver office of the U.S. Attorney, said Aug. 14 it is the government’s policy to neither confirm nor deny ongoing investigations.

Marler said investigators did not direct him to remain mum when they visited his office. He said he notified his clients of the U.S. Attorney’s interest in the cases so they would not be caught off guard if they saw media reports.

“In the context of being involved with these kinds of cases for 20 years, it is very seldom that there is a parallel criminal investigation,” Marler said.

There are at least two such investigations pending — one related to the 2006 peanut butter salmonella outbreak and the other related to the 2010 egg salmonella outbreak.

Federal code provides for felony and misdemeanor penalties in such cases. Intent determines the status, according to Section 303 of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

Felony convictions can carry prison sentences of up to three years. Misdemeanors can result in up to a year in prison. Fines for individuals and organizations range from $5,000 to $500,000 per incident, depending on whether the victim died.