Jack DeCoster, Hillandale Farms: Culprits in Massive Egg Recall?

In 2000, the Iowa attorney general dubbed DeCoster a "habitual violator" of the state's environmental laws and ordered him to pay a $150,000 fine. DeCoster had failed to properly dispose of the hog and chicken manure and had let it run into a nearby creek.

Egg King Started in Business at Age of 12

Earlier this year, DeCoster pleaded guilty to 10 counts of animal cruelty over his company's treatment of its chickens. In June, DeCoster was ordered to pay more than more than $100,000 in fines and restitution, a ruling that is considered one of the landmark animal cruelty cases in history.

The charges and subsequent guilty plea came after an undercover investigation by Mercy For Animals, a national non-profit animal protection organization, that said they witnessed live birds being thrown in the trash, employees whipping birds by their necks in an attempt to kill them, and hens living in cages so small that their wings could not be lifted without getting snagged on wires.

The rotting corpses of hens were also often not removed from the cages they shared with hens that were producing eggs to be used in human consumption, according to Daniel Hauff, the director of investigations for the organization. His charges were also detailed in the complaint.

Investigators tracing the latest salmonella outbreak have traced some of the eggs back to DeCoster's farms. While they haven't determined yet what caused the outbreak, they are looking into whether rodents had been defecating in the chicken feed.

DeCoster began farming, according to a childhood friend, when he was just 12 with just a fraction of the chickens he now has.

"He's a self-made man," said Ralph Caldwell, a dairy farmer in Turner, Maine, where DeCoster was raised. "He started with 250 chickens, now he has 12 to 15 million, and all the hogs you can count."

According to Caldwell, DeCoster is a born-again Baptist who has contributed significant amounts of money to rebuild churches in Maine and in Iowa. He has four boys, all of whom Caldwell says "were brought up to work."

"He's a busy person, the type of guy who will leave his truck doors open and the engine running in the parking lot," said Caldwell. "He's possessed with doing business."

Egg King DeCoster Frequents Courts

Over the years, much of DeCoster's business has been done in various court rooms, a fact that Caldwell doesn't dispute but also argues doesn't tell the whole story.

"I'm not questioning that there've been problems, but it isn't from a lack of trying to do it right," said Caldwell.

DeCoster's company's spokeswoman Hinda Mitchell said he was not available for an interview with ABC News.

Public court records and reports chronicle DeCoster's storied history. With farms sprinkled across the U.S. in Maine, Ohio and Iowa, each of his properties has been the subject of litigation at one time or another.

In 2003, DeCoster reached a $2.1 million settlement with the federal government after pleading guilty to knowingly employing more than 100 undocumented workers in his Iowa farms, according to court documents.

It was allegations sexual harassment that landed DeCoster in trouble in 2002. Eleven female workers filed a complaint against DeCoster for sexual harassment, including rape, at the Iowa farms. According to the court documents, the women claimed that they were threatened that they would lose their jobs if they reported the crimes.

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