Peanut Corporation Of America Owner Facing Possible Thirty Year Sentence After Conviction In Food Poisoning Case

Submitted by Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

Stewart Parnell
Stewart Parnell

In what promises to be a sign of holding executives liable for their involvement in putting poisonous products into the food supply a Federal Jury convicted former Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell of Conspiracy, Obstruction of Justice, Wire Fraud, and other crimes relating to a nationwide outbreak of salmonella that sickened over seven hundred individuals in forty three states and likely killed nine. Federal investigators in 2009 traced tainted peanut butter supplied by Parnell’s business to several producers who then packaged it into peanut butter containing foods according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The seven week trial, the culmination of a five year ordeal, has perhaps in measure brought closure and justice for those suffering damages from executives who knowingly and intentionally conspired to endanger so many.

In addition to Stewart Parnell, his Brother Michael Parnell–a food broker, was found guilty of also forging laboratory tests intended to screen for salmonella. The quality control manager for PCA, Mary Wilkerson, along with Stewart Parnell, were found guilty of Obstructing Justice for withholding information from federal investigators.

peanut-corporation-of-america-logoInspectors discovered the plant infested with rats and cockroaches and a leaky roof, conditions likely adding to the risk of salmonella.

“Corporate officials are now on notice that they’ll be held to account for their conduct and claims of ignorance of arguments that ‘I was too busy’ or maybe that ‘I delegated the responsibility to someone else’ or even just finger-pointing in general will not be a shield from basic responsibility,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Moore, whose office in Georgia’s Middle District prosecuted the case.

A copy of the original indictment may be downloaded HERE

During the trial, forty six witnesses were called and over one thousand pages of documents were entered into evidence. The jury did not hear testimony concerning the deaths of the nine victims. U.S. Attorney Michael Moore stated he did not wish to enter the issue of the deaths into the trial, electing instead to build what he believed to be a stronger and a more easily proven case by focusing on the fraudulent nature of the events alleged. “We wanted to make sure we kept the jury focused on the conduct that led to these people’s sickness, but not let the case get into the medical history of every victim out there with testimony on individual deaths,” Moore said.

The Arizona Republic reported that “[d]efense attorneys have acknowledged the Georgia plant shipped tainted peanut butter and covered up positive salmonella tests, but they say the scheme was carried out behind the backs of the Parnell brothers by two plant managers who pleaded guilty. Before the trial began, defense lawyers asked the judge to rule any evidence of sickness or death out-of-bounds. They argued it was irrelevant to the prosecutors’ fraud case and would unfairly “sway the passions of the jury” toward convictions.

Moore said his prosecutors also had doubts about whether death evidence would be admissible, or whether convictions in the case would be vulnerable to appeals if the trial judge allowed the jury to hear that people died. Prosecutors backed off before Judge W. Louis Sands ruled he would allow evidence that people got sick.”

One aspect that could have complicated the issues raised at trial was not only the deaths themselves, but the issue as to whether the jury would find that the cause of death was actually the food-poisoning or other pathologies. Those who suffered death were older and had other issues such as cancer and heart disease. At least one resided in a nursing home.

While it might be unsettling to some that the crimes resulting in convictions did not relate directly to the deaths over the tainted peanut butter. If the brothers Parnell receive the maximum penalty it could effectively be a life sentence. Stewart Parnell is sixty years of age. They also face millions in fines.

Hopefully the trial will raise awareness among food producers, but the public and regulators should always remain vigilant.

By Darren Smith


AZ Central
United States Department of Justice

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

43 thoughts on “Peanut Corporation Of America Owner Facing Possible Thirty Year Sentence After Conviction In Food Poisoning Case”

  1. Peter:Good post. I am not sure that I see the lack of government ineonvemvlt in the peanut fiasco. It sounds like some people are going to jail for letting their negligence cause sickness and death.However, on the tobacco side, it’s not negligence that makes people sick and die. Tobacco companies ship a dangerous product with known detrimental effects to people’s health as a matter of course. Nobody is being indicted for the sickness and death caused by their products. And their products sicken and kill thousands of times more people than the peanut butter industry. I suppose you could say that people know cigarettes are dangerous while they assume peanut butter is safe. There is some solace there I guess.However, a community should have the right to use the tax system to curb bad behavior. In Virginia, as usual, towns and cities have rights while counties do not. This has resulted in very low cigarette taxes in all Virginia counties. The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond is, of course, complicit in this. Virginia has the second lowest state cigarette tax in the United States (only Missouri has a lower rate). This both attracts cigarette companies to Richmond and helps spread the misery of tobacco borne disease and death to the residents all across the state.Towns and cities in Virginia share some culpability. They are allowed to impose additional taxes without limitation on cigarettes. Some, like the City of Alexandria have imposed a higher tax than the state (Alexandria adds $0.85 per pack). Some have imposed no additional tax.Two counties Arlington and Fairfax have been granted the right to impose additional taxes on cigarettes by the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond. However, these two counties are capped in what they can add. They are only allowed to add as much as the state tax. Perhaps needless to say they both impose the maximum additional tax allowed by the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond ($.30 per pack).This is yet another disgrace that can be laid directly at the feet of Dillon’s Rule and the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond. Why should Arlington and Fairfax Counties have caps imposed on their local cigarette taxes? I can only assume it is the direct intervention of the ruling oligarchy in Richmond who wants to curry favor with Phillip Morris. To which I say, Hey D-bags if you want to trade your citizen’s health for the warm glow of Phillip Morris, that’s your choice. But get your filthy, tobacco stained hands off of my county .

  2. “Those arguments that we don’t need regulation because the market will clear itself of bad actors seem pretty thin right now. ”

    What people often forget of course is that the common law absolutely contemplates these actions.

  3. Thanks for the compliment Shakingmyhead, but neither you nor Brian Harris got the answer or asked for it…..

  4. Darrel C Carlson – a regulator is a regulator just as a cop is a cop. The chief of police is still a cop. Although I do see your point. 🙂

  5. P.C.S. I think you have a typo = first “regulations” s/b “the regulators boss” and second one just “regulators”

  6. So many on the rightwing always talk about cutting regulations, as if there was no purpose to regulations. Their purpose though is to stop things like tainted peanuts that can get people sick. The reason we have regs is because of bad actors of individuals.

    1. Jerome – the purpose of regulations is to keep the regulator employed. The more regulations the longer the employment.

        1. maxcat06 – the problem with the peanut case was forging documents, allowing bad product out the door, etc. Regulators did not stop any of that. They came in after the fact.

  7. traveling limey you nailed it!!!! and as long as there are so many willing to continue the lie of theirstory and not acknowledge or accept the truth this type of mess will continue those men the parnells wont do a day in jail oh they will be walked in the front door but like many others snuck out the back soon as the reporters leave. and not heard from again it depends on how high up in the game they are. its exactly why no one involved in swindle st (wall st) has ever been prosecuted the parnells did their part in helping with the depopulation plan it didnt kill as many as it should have but it wont end there the elites need population down to 500 million and so far we are still in the billions

  8. So, if the people who were killed by the peanut butter, were instead killed by my car in a type of accident in which some percentage of people survive, then I get to advance the legal argument that the immediate and proximate cause of their death was not in fact the trauma from the accident but their underlying medical state??

    Sounds to me that there is a greater likelihood that these people would have lived at least longer than they did had they not eaten the tainted peanut butter and contracted Salmonella. How much longer is imponderable, as it is for any single person.

  9. Karen –why would they think they could get away with this behavior? Easy, they ususally do. Corporations have been poisoning humans for years and their CEOs have been flying away on their private planes or sailing away on their yatchs for decades and decades. Some have sailed right into the government and into the agencies that are supposed to regulate such behavior.

    1. ” Some have sailed right into the government and into the agencies that are supposed to regulate such behavior.”

      The idea that markets will control bad economic actors makes about as much sense to me as the Platonic argument that no man can knowingly do wrong. However sound the argument, we see contradictions every day.

      For a chilling article revealing how Wall Street investment banks influenced and controled regulators see:

  10. In 2009 my husband and I were on vacation in CA. We were out in the middle of nowhere and hungry. Finally found a kind of wierd dirty diner where the coffee spelled burnt. But, we were hungry, so we bought a package of those peanut butter cheese crackers because they seemed like the cleanest edible thing in the place. That evening we both got violently ill. Felt better next day, but took about 3 months to feel 100% again. Read about the samonella online in Germany about a month later.

  11. There seems to be some confusion about the free market and capitalism. Modern capitalism is governed by reasonable regulations to protect against The Jungle type conditions. This case illustrates the value of food safety laws.

    Fiscal conservatives merely want those regulations to be reasonable and navigable. For instance, that regulation against saggy pants is an example of intrusive over regulation.

    This case does not mean all regulations are inherently good. And, in fact, I am not aware if anyone besides anarchists who want zero regs.

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