Austin “Jack” DeCoster, the infamous egg magnate sentenced to jail for his role in a national salmonella outbreak, will have “absolutely no role in the management” of three central Maine egg farms that he owns, according to their new leaseholder.

Melanie Wilt, a media consultant who represents Hillandale Farms, said Tuesday that DeCoster still owns the farms in Turner, Leeds and Winthrop but has no ownership stake in any of the Hillandale companies. Hillandale is a Pennsylvania-based egg producer founded by a longtime ally and business partner of DeCoster, Orland Bethel.

Iowa farms controlled by Hillandale and DeCoster were at the center of a 2010 salmonella outbreak estimated to have sickened more than 56,000 people nationwide and resulted in the recall of half a billion eggs. DeCoster and his son, Peter, pleaded guilty in 2014 for their role in the outbreak and were sentenced to three months in jail in April, while a company they controlled pleaded guilty to bribing federal inspectors. Federal prosecutors in Iowa said the DeCosters haven’t served their sentences because they are appealing them.

In the aftermath of the outbreak, DeCoster announced he was turning over his farms to a Land O’Lakes subsidiary in a 10-year lease-to-purchase deal. Land O’Lakes, based in Minnesota, did not purchase the farms, and instead its egg subsidiary, California-based Moark, reached an agreement in July to sell the lease to Hillandale, Wilt said. The farms are still owned by DeCoster’s companies.

The farm in Turner has remained fully active, Wilt said, and is operating at capacity with 2.8 million laying hens. A farm in Winthrop had been closed but is being repopulated and now has 200,000 birds. The Leeds farm is closed with no plans to reopen.

The company will keep the managers Moark hired, including the senior manager, Skip Hagy, who pledged in a written statement to “continue to improve operations as we have worked diligently to do over the last four years as Moark employees.”

DeCoster, 81, is perhaps the most infamous businessman in Maine history. Over a half century of misconduct, his egg and hog companies have paid millions in fines and damages for everything from faking trucking logs and knowingly hiring illegal immigrants to environmental contamination, animal cruelty, workplace safety problems, and the exploitation of workers, including the alleged rapes of female employees by supervisors and the terrorizing of workers housed in squalid, crowded, cockroach-infested company trailers at his Maine farms.

In 2006, Ohio authorities discovered DeCoster was the controlling investor in an Ohio egg company owned by Hillandale’s Bethel, even though DeCoster was prohibited from operating farms in the state because he had been declared a “habitual offender” in another state, Iowa. DeCoster had apparently also invested in the Hillandale farm in Iowa involved in the 2010 outbreak, and had provided them chickens and feed.

Hillandale said in a press release Tuesday that it would be “assuming the farms’ payroll” on Sept. 26. It has applied to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to have appropriate permits transferred from Land O’Lakes, but department spokesman David Madore said there is no timeline for when those would be approved.


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