Man invents killer to avoid food fraud rap

Staff WriterJune 8, 2010 

— A Durham man is accused of lying that the bread he sold to intestinal disease sufferers was gluten-free. To get out of felony charges for those lies, prosecutors say, Paul Seelig told another one, a big one.

Seelig, 48, told Raleigh police detectives that he knew the killer in one of the Triangle's most high-profile murder cases: the death of state school board member Kathy Taft.

"He implicated a completely innocent person in a crime of homicide?" Wake Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens asked a prosecutor Monday.

Yes, said Jason Waller, an assistant district attorney. DNA in the Taft case, Waller said, proved "the information Mr. Seelig provided was completely false."

Seelig was in court Monday because he was expected to plead guilty, but he refused to accept the plea deal, Waller said. Prosecutors had agreed to let Seelig plead guilty to six felony counts and not seek indictments on about 20 other complaints. Now Seelig, who has been selling nuts and candies at an east Durham flea market, could face significantly more prison time if convicted of all 31 fraud counts at trial.

Prosecutors say Seelig's offer in the Taft case came as the investigation went weeks without a suspect being charged. In exchange for implicating a former co-worker as Taft's killer, prosecutors say Seelig wanted his own charges reduced or dismissed, prosecutors said.

About six weeks after the killing of Taft, 62, police charged Jason K. Williford, a 30-year-old unemployed musician with her murder and rape.

On Monday, the judge increased Seelig's bond to $750,000 from $100,000. He cited Seelig's false statements to detectives, his criminal record, which includes convictions for federal wire fraud and grand theft, and the fact that prosecutors will seek additional charges.

Seelig's customers complained to state investigators about getting sick after eating bread bought from his company, Great Specialty Products.

Gluten-free products are necessary for those with celiac disease, which affects about one in every 133 Americans.

If someone with celiac disease consumes gluten, the protein damages their small intestines, rendering them unable to absorb nutrients. The disease can lead to auto-immune disorders and an increased risk for certain cancers.

In late January, state officials sought a court order that would close Seelig's business. He was arrested on criminal charges in early February.

Rebecca Fernandez was in court Monday. Her son, Malachy, suffered a rash and unusual bowel movements after eating bread that later tested positive for gluten. She says she was initially shocked to hear that Seelig implicated an innocent person in a murder case, let alone the Taft case. But this is a man whom Fernandez said had repeatedly assured her his bread was safe for her son to eat.

"I think at this point there's not much that would surprise us," Fernandez said.

andrea.weigl@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4848

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