Bread company owner admits to lies
Posted April 8, 2011 4:25 p.m. EDT
Updated April 11, 2011 4:14 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — 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.
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.