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DeCoster, 77, was a child in Maine when his father died, leaving him 200 hens. He built a vast egg empire with hard work and ruthless tactics. He continued and even expanded his egg farms even as they were cited and charged with immigration, safety, environmental and labor violations. As he clashed with regulators, he won over others by generously donating his money for local municipal projects.
The business survived raids that led to the arrests of dozens of workers, DeCoster's 2003 conviction for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and fines totaling millions of dollars for everything from animal cruelty to workplace discrimination. A member of former President Bill Clinton's cabinet once compared one of DeCoster's farms' working conditions to a sweatshop, and Iowa labeled DeCoster the one and only "habitual violator" of its environmental laws as part of its unsuccessful effort to stop his company's expansion.
After the salmonella outbreak, federal agents descended on DeCoster farms in Iowa. No charges have been filed, and a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Cedar Rapids declined comment Monday on whether a federal investigation continued.
A spokeswoman said neither Jack nor Peter DeCoster would be granting interviews. At the Congressional hearing last year, Jack DeCoster said he was horrified to learn his eggs were the source of the outbreak and his farms' conditions bothered him "a lot."
Peter DeCoster, who ran their day-to-day operations, promised Congress the company would make "sweeping biosecurity and food safety changes" after the recall.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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