Local News

Bread seller faces deceptive advertising charges

Posted February 2, 2010 5:04 p.m. EST
Updated February 3, 2010 12:21 p.m. EST

— The owner of a Durham bread company whose products sickened dozens of people was charged Tuesday with fraud.

Paul Evan Seelig, 47, of 3105 Cardinal Lake Drive in Durham, was charged with six misdemeanor counts of obtaining property by false pretense. He was out of jail Tuesday evening on a $100,000 bond – set by a magistrate who deemed him a flight risk.

The charges allege that Seelig's firm, Great Specialty Products, sold $154 in bread that was advertised as being gluten-free. The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which pursued the criminal charges, said tests of the bread showed high levels of gluten and maintained that Seelig knew the products weren't gluten-free.

Gluten is a protein in wheat and other grains, and some people with autoimmune disorders experience digestive problems when they eat products containing gluten.

Numerous people who bought products from Great Specialty at the 2009 State Fair or ordered items off the company's Web site have complained of allergic reactions after eating the products, according to a lawsuit the agriculture department filed last month against Seelig and Great Specialty.

As part of the lawsuit, a Superior Court judge on Tuesday barred Great Specialty from selling any products until the lawsuit was resolved.

Seelig was charged after Tuesday's court hearing, but he suffered a medical condition while he was being booked. Wake County deputies took him to WakeMed, where he was treated before returning to the magistrate's office.

Great Specialty has been run out of a Seelig's house. A spokesman for the agriculture department said the company didn't bake its own bread but purchased items from bakeries and packaged and sold them under its own label, claiming the products were gluten-free.

Because the company sold directly to consumers and not through grocery stores and other retailers, it's unknown how many loaves of bread and other products were sold to unsuspecting buyers, the spokesman said.