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Durham bread company owner found guilty of fraud

Posted April 11, 2011
Updated April 12, 2011

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— A jury on Monday found a Durham bread company owner guilty of fraud for selling products falsely labeled as gluten-free, causing dozens of customers to fall ill.

Paul Evan Seelig, 48, owner of Great Specialty Bread Co., was found guilty of 23 counts of fraud. He faces a maximum sentence of more than 17 years in prison.

A sentencing hearing for Seelig will be held Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. 

Seelig admitted during testimony last week that he lied when state investigators asked him about the products he sold as gluten-free.

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.

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 23 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."  

Zach Becker, one of the victims who testified against Seelig, said Seelig's deception hurt the most. 

"Half of this is, yeah, he poisoned us and made us all sick, but the other half is we really grew to trust him and the claims of his products," Becker said following the verdict. "It was really a rude awakening on how deceitful people can be." 

15 Comments

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  • shanita6 Apr 12, 2011

    What was his purpose?????

  • jmenot Apr 11, 2011

    i agree it's pretty bad.another pretty bad thing, he could have shot and killed somebody and got less than 17 years.maybe he'll be picked to do some work at the mansion.

  • ncguy Apr 11, 2011

    I think this is a federal offense also.

  • muttley - back by popular demand Apr 11, 2011

    Safe to say Bev won't be getting a political donation from this democrat any time soon.

    http://www.sboe.state.nc.us/VoterLookup.aspx?arrivedFrom=VoterInformation&Reason=noURLReferrence

  • zachiarose Apr 11, 2011

    I could never understand how someone like this can actually face himself in his mirror. This person was deceptive and greedy in such a terrible way. Knowingly selling this bread product without full disclosure of the true ingredients which would always have the outcome of discomfort, or worse as in the case of the preterm birth, is just too hard for me to accept. And to claim to be someone else, using cancer, heart problems and the flu to not be identified as the actual person, is as despicible as what he sold the bread as. I hope he does not get a fine or probation. He needs to be put in jail for intent to cause harm on so many people. This has to be more than a "greed" thing, it has to be that he is truly a hateful person.

  • rebeccagfernandez Apr 11, 2011

    OGE, it's not like being cut off in traffic. It's like being deliberately rear-ended!

  • Deacons Apr 11, 2011

    idiota

  • djofraleigh Apr 11, 2011

    He essentially poisoned people for profit....put him away the maximum amount.

  • RB aka Spirit Warrior Woman Apr 11, 2011

    This guy is a weinee.

  • rebeccagfernandez Apr 11, 2011

    No one sued him. But he injured several children and caused a preterm birth, among other things. I think if you were one of his victims you'd want to see his crazy self back in jail for the third time!

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