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Bread company owner admits to lies

Posted April 8, 2011
Updated April 11, 2011

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— A bread company owner admitted Friday that he lied when state investigators asked him about the products he sold as gluten-free.

Paul Evan Seelig, 48, owner of Great Specialty Bread Co., is on trial for selling falsely labeled products, causing dozens of customers to fall ill.

Seelig's defense attorneys said he did not deliberately mislead customers and blamed the inconsistencies on his supplier.

On Friday, Seelig took the stand to answer questions about how he responded when investigators from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services began looking into his company.

Seelig delayed an inspection of his home kitchen by claiming he had a heart attack, said Brett Weed, an investigator with the department's Food & Drug Protection Division.

Lawyers challenge bread seller Lawyers challenge bread seller

When investigators went to Seelig's Durham home, Seelig came to the door shirtless and claimed to be Jeff Gleason, an employee. The man who called himself Gleason, Weed said, told investigators that Seelig had a heart attack, cancer and the flu and could not be reached. 

"It is still kind of shocking that he would go to the trouble of creating an alias for our dealings," Weed said.

On Friday, Seelig admitted he had no heart attack and made up the Gleason persona.

During the course of the trial, jurors heard from dozens of customers who bought Great Specialty bread only to be sickened after eating it.

Many of Seelig's customers have Celiac disease and ingesting gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye, can cause them symptoms which range from diarrhea and abdominal pain to irritability and depression. Celiac sufferers carefully monitor their diet and avoid foods with gluten. 

"The number of complaints we received against this one company was completely unprecedented," Weed said. "(We) never had this many first-person accounts from people about products from one particular company."  

Lori Kelley said she specifically asked Seelig about the content of his products.

"He said, 'No problem. It will be safe,'" she testified.

"That night I had a bagel, and I had an immediate reaction. I was on the bathroom floor the rest of the night," she said.

Seelig's defense rested Friday afternoon and closing arguments will continue Monday. If convicted of fraud, he faces up to eight years in prison.

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  • ivorbarry Apr 12, 2011

    My friend Lisa suffered brain damage from eating gluten. She can't tell gluten is harming her until the damage is already done. It took her two years and treatment at the Mayo Clinic to recover. She's fine today and has returned to teaching English at her University in Michigan. But eating gluten is far more dangerous than a little "Montezuma's revenge" for her and other celiacs.

  • djofraleigh Apr 8, 2011

    The student put hand sanitizer in the teacher's drink making her sick as a childish prank, and is in jail, but this man has put the health of people in jeopardy for profit. The liar should be given the maximum sentence.

  • lzardbeth Apr 8, 2011

    Celiac disease can be fatal because people starve to death even thought they are eating a lot of food. There are lots & lots of symptons including terrible skin problems. The article above makes it seem as if it is an inconvenience. Also people affected by his lying are allergic to wheat which again can be fatal and even if not lots of symptons that take weeks to go away. With celiacs it can take 6 months for the stomach to start absorbing nutriets. The FDA does not requglate "gluten free" c;aims at this time.

  • RB aka Spirit Warrior Woman Apr 8, 2011

    OGE - "so some people got a little montezumas revenge."

    Signs and Symptoms of Malabsorption, Malnutrition, vitamin and/or mineral Deficiencies Associated with Celiac Disease:
    Abdominal cramps, gas and bloating
    Anemia
    Borborygmi (stomach rumbling)
    Coetaneous bleeding
    Diarrhea
    Easy bruising Epitasis (nose bleeding) Failure to thrive Fatigue or general weakness Flatulence Fluid retention Foul-smelling or grayish stools that are often fatty or oily Gastrointestinal symptoms Gastrointestinal hemorrhage Hematuria (red urine) Hypocalcaemia/ hypomagnesaemia Infertility Iron deficiency anemia lymphocytic gastritis Muscle weakness Muscle wasting Nausea No obvious physical symptoms (just fatigue, overall not feeling well) Osteoporosis Pallor (unhealthy pale appearance) Panic Attacks Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage) Stunted growth in children Vertigo Vitamin B12 deficiency Vitamin D deficiency Vitamin K deficiency Vomiting Voracious appetite Weight loss Obesity

  • RB aka Spirit Warrior Woman Apr 8, 2011

    Why isn't this a FEDERAL FDA issue???

    Just wondering

  • OGE Apr 8, 2011

    so some people got a little montezumas revenge.