Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell has invoked his privilege against self-incrimination to refuse testimony before Congress. It was the smart move. Parnell is in the same position as Roger Clemens and other baseball players accused in the steroid scandal. The most likely charge that they faced was not from the original allegations but their testimony before Congress, the grand jury, or statements to investigators.
After he invoked, Parnell was excused from the hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The case against Parnell and his family is building, including emails that reportedly show that Parnell ordered known salmonella tainted products to be sold. The emails portray Parnell as concerned only about delay and loss of money rather than the health of his customers. In one emails, Parnell allegedly complains that the tests were “costing us huge $$$$$.”
After the outbreak, Parnell reportedly told Food and Drug Administration officials that the company “desperately at least need to turn the raw peanuts on our floor into money.”
In major scandals of this kind, it is often how you respond to the allegations that results in the actual criminal charges. Members of Congress and the FBI know that business people and celebrities are eager to “clear their names” or try to manage a scandal. What is remarkable is how many many fall into this trap as shown by Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and others.
Parnell may already be in difficulty over statements made to investigators. False statements made to federal investigators can be charged as a violation of 18 U.S.C. 1001. In an email to employees at least, Parnell seemed less than candid, stating “No salmonella has been found anywhere else in our products, or in our plants, or in any unopened containers of our product.”
One of the jobs of Parnell’s lawyers is to explain to him that his company is history as is his reputation and much of wealth. The only question is his liberty at this point.
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