Tuesday, February 2, 2010

NC vs. Great Specialty Products Update - Preliminary Injunction Granted

I have just returned from the Wake County Courthouse and will try my best to provide a summary of the nearly 2 and a half hour Preliminary Injunction hearing against Great Specialty Products.  To read the background information on this topic, click here for my original post.  Click here to read the Preliminary Injunction document.

Before the hearing began, Paul Seelig, owner/operator of Great Specialty Products asked the court for a continuance due to his poor health and lack of time to prepare.  His legal counsel resigned from the case late last week and Mr. Seelig claims to be very ill at this time.  Judge Titus denied that request and the hearing began as scheduled.

NC Department of Agriculture Summary
The lawyers representing the NCDA&CS started off the hearing seeking a Preliminary Injunction against Great Specialty Products by sharing a large amount of information as to the investigation conducted and the number of complaints received by the state.  There were a total of 25 complaints received to date against GSP where consumers reported getting sick from the supposed Gluten Free products being sold.  Nine signed affidavits were presented to the court as evidence in the case and 2 live witnesses were heard.  One of the affidavits was submitted by Dr. Anant B. Soni, a internal medicine and Gastroenterology expert who assisted the State with information on Celiac Disease and the Gluten Free diet. The State told the court of Paul Seelig's past troubles with the law and some of the other shady things he has been a part of.  For example, in 2001/2002, Mr. Seelig was indicted in Montana with various counts of crimes ranging from wire fraud, bank fraud, money laundering, making false claims and making false statements.  He was convicted via plea bargain on several of the charges and served several months in jail.  Evidence was submitted where Mr. Seelig sent extortionary letters to a company involved in this case (Tribecca Oven) asking for money to be paid to him or legal action would be taken.  Mr. Seelig was also shown to have acted under an alias of Jeff or Andrew Gleason and to have claimed various sicknesses in order to delay working with the State's investigation (things like H1N1, quarantined due to staph infection, cancer treatment and even heart attack).  Mr. Seelig did not deny any of this information shared with the court.  He also presented another fictitious letter from a Millersburg, Ohio Amish bakery called Rise'n Bakeries.  This fake bakery was claimed to have been providing Great Specialty Products with Gluten Free baked goods since 1996.  The State's investigation found no record of such company ever existing in Ohio.

The State called two witnesses, one a local consumer who was sickened by the bread and a representative from the NC Department of Agriculture.  Both provided damning evidence against Great Specialty Products which were not refuted by cross-examination by Mr. Seelig.  The details of the thorough and lenghty investigation by the Dept. of Ag were also shared with the court.  The Dept. of Ag. was more than fair in their investigation and attempt to work with GSP.  Constant stall tactics, lies and the uncooperativeness of Mr. Seelig was also shared with the court.  Details about the products being tested by a lab at the University of Nebraska (FDA facility) were also submitted to the court.  All tests showed that Great Speciality Products supposed Gluten Free bread actually contained >5,000 PPM.  The investigation revealed that GSP was buying regular bread products from a company in NJ called Tribecca Oven and repackaging the products as GF.

Great Specialty Products Defense Summary
Paul Seelig had more than a fair opportunity to present evidence is his defense but was unable to do so.  He had numerous chances to cross examine both witnesses and even called his own witness.  His lone witness was a GSP employee who worked at the "repackaging facility".  Paul Seelig asked the witness a few questions and then abruptly stopped after she gave her honest and condemning answers.  Two questions in particular were crucial to the hearing - Mr. Seelig asked his "employee" whether she ever noticed Tribecca Oven products at their facility (a.k.a Paul's house in Durham) when she was preparing Gluten Free bread orders to which she replied "I never really paid attention."  Mr. Seelig also asked her if Great Specialty Products indeed ordered their Gluten Free bread products from a company called Rise'n Bakeries in Millersburg, Ohio to which she replied "I don't know".  Not even his own employee would defend him.  The State's lawyers quickly cross-examined the employee and asked her to read an invoice which details where Great Specialty Products purchased bread from Tribecca Oven.  Case closed basically at that point.

 Preliminary Injunction Granted - Great Specialty Products is Toast (pun intended)
Judge Titus, after hearing all the extended testimony, then ruled in favor of granting the Preliminary Injunction against Great Specialty Products, Paul Seelig/Andrew/Jeff Gleason and any other employees of the company to stop selling food products.  The judge ordered the company's Web site shut down and that the company must work with the NC Department of Agriculture in their ongoing investigation in any way requested.  The judge didn't go as far to shut down the company entirely but did say he was very tempted.  The State's investigation will continue until a time at which a Permanent Injunction can be sought.  At the very end of the Judge's statement, he said to Mr. Seelig that the deputy has a little something for him.  Paul Seelig was then escorted out of the courtroom into a private room where he was placed under arrest for obtaining funds under false pretenses (taking money from consumers for fraudulent GF products).  The picture to the left was taken moments before Mr. Seelig was removed by the deputy.

UPDATE 2/2 @ 8PM
The story was shown by NBC17 during it's evening news tonight.  Click here for the link and video.  During the story, they said that Mr. Seelig collapsed while being taken into custody and was taken to WakeMed for treatment.  From this WRAL story, he was later brought back to the magistrate's office and charged with six misdemeanor felony counts of obtaining property by false pretense.  His bail was set at $100,000 due to his high flight risk.

UPDATE 2/3 @ 8AM
Some of the media outlets are incorrectly reporting that the charges brought forth against Mr. Seelig yesterday were misdemeanors when they are actually felonies.  Paul Seelig will again be in court today @ 2pm.

Click here to read a recap from the News & Observer.  Huge thanks to Andrea Weigl from the N&O for helping me shed light on this important story for our community!  I've also uploaded his mug shot as well.  Beware if you ever see this man.

UPDATE 2/3 @ 2PM
I spoke with someone at the Wake County Courthouse a few minutes ago and they said this hearing has been moved to 2/24/2010 @ 9am.  No courtroom has yet been assigned.

UPDATE 2/4 @ 8AM
As ordered by the Court, the Web site address for Great Specialty Products has been removed.

UPDATE 2/5 @ 9AM
Story picked up by Celiac.com, one of the most read Web sites dealing with Celiac or Gluten Free living.

20 comments:

Rebecca said...

A big victory for the celiac community.

Kate said...

WAHOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

Amanda said...

I have also bought products from this man and have some strange stories as well. But my main concern is I paid him with checks. Do you think he will use this in any way, now knowing his history? I feel so taken, I don't think I have ever been scammed before, it's not a good feeling! Thank you for your blog and your updates!

Lee said...

Amanda, I was wondering the same thing since he has my cc number!
by the way, does anybody know where he got his bagels from?

Rebecca said...

Lee - at the hearing today, the Attorney General's office team mentioned an intermediary company in Virginia where he got the Tribeca Ovens bread and presumably the Bindi desserts and (??) bagels he was selling, as well as the rest of his stuff. I didn't catch the name but it was just three spoken letters.

Maybe Zach wrote it down? I'm sure some googling would turn it up, and my money is on the bagels being another brand that this wholesale distributor made available to its customers.

(The distributor was as outraged as Tribeca Ovens at Paul's actions, from what I have heard.)

Rebecca said...

Also, I canceled my credit card. Others have opted to wait and see (and press charges at that time).

Lauren said...

Rebecca - I called the attorney's office Friday afternoon and did not get a call back. Do you think the e-mail I would still be useful?

Emily said...

Thank you, Zach, for taking the time to go to the hearing and this thorough report!

Rebecca said...

Lauren,
Hmm, I'm not sure why they didn't call back, but it's been a crazy weekend getting ready for the hearing. I'd give it a few days and consider calling and leaving another message, in case they would like to have an affadavit from you for the trial itself.

Also I can put you in touch with the officer who is pressing the criminal charges, in case it's useful to his case. Email me at thegfcfcookbook@gmail.com

Lee said...

I thought I could spot a con a mile away- in my cynical 40's- but he really fooled me. I'm still shocked. Is he even Amish?? He told me he was.

I'm so curious about the bagels b/c I really want to know the ingredients. I've been eating them with no reaction and so am curious if I'm over my wheat intolerance. It's been years but it has made me so sick in the past that I'm scared to try wheat. Now, I'm wondering if I've been eating it for months with no reaction.

I also think I'm going to cancel my cc!

Steve said...

Thank you very much for defending the celiac community from this predator.

Steve Rider
Gluten Free Search

thesavvyceliac.com said...

Great reporting!!!!!!
You have done a fantastic job with this story that is important for Americans to hear about!

Gina said...

Thanks for the thorough reporting. I posted a link to your post on my blog. I found you through Savvy Celiac. Good work!

Lauren said...

Rebecca - I read your e-mail earlier today. Thank you for your help. You made it easier for me! And thank you, Zach, for all the updates!

Erin S. said...

Excellent coverage of this story. Thank you North Carolina for taking this so seriously and trying to keep us with Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance safe!

Rebecca said...

Lee - He is not Amish. Jewish, actually. If you search his name in the News & Observer archives, there's an old article about him and his son Brad that mentions the detail, plus he let it slip in an email to someone where he talks about the "Jewish Rye Bread."

Jewish-Amish, perhaps? ;)

Lee said...

Funny, Rebecca. I guess that's why he acted so weird after he told me he was Amish and I asked him if he knew this Amish family that I know. He got way nervous and left in a hurry.

Lauren said...

That is true. I have that e-mail, Lee. I asked why Jewish Rye Bread was a choice when rye isn't gluten free. I wanted to see the ingredient list. I didn't get one of course, but he told me ("take it from a real Jewish person...") that rye/gluten wasn't used.

Lee said...

I'm agreeing with you guys. I'm just saying that he probably got nervous when i said I knew an Amish family maybe b/c he was worried he'd be busted as a liar.

Sorry if I wasn't clear.

Lauren said...

I'm sorry if I wasn't clear too. I knew you agreed. I just wanted to further explain the e-mail I got because I think it's really interesting all the stories that are floating around. No wonder he got nervous when you asked about the Amish family! ;-)

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