Sentenced to 28 years: Stewart Parnell
Published: September 22, 2015
Sentenced to 28 years: Stewart Parnell, At trial last year, prosecutors called 45 witnesses and presented more than 1,000 documents including months of emails, lab results and financial records to make their case that Parnell knew about the contamination, covered it up and ordered PCA to continue shipments of salmonella-tainted peanut paste used to manufacture a variety of products.
The prosecution’s blistering opening statement contained three now-infamous words Parnell wrote in a March 2007 email to a plant manager about contaminated products: “Just ship it.”
Stewart Parnell invoked the Fifth Amendment at a congressional hearing.
Defense statements and witnesses, which took all of 104 minutes, portrayed Parnell as a small-business owner who was scapegoated by the government. Defense attorneys argued that Parnell did not know about mismanagement at the plant and that he was the fall guy for other employees’ wrongdoing.
The prosecution was a rarity, Marler said, because the Department of Justice charged the Parnell brothers with felonies. Prior cases involved misdemeanors.
“Prosecutors took a risk and fortunately, the jury believed them,” Marler said. “The jury saw this for what it was. The emails and documents told a story of a company that was more interested in shipping out products than products that were safe.”
Salmonella is America’s most common cause of food-borne illness and sickens up to 1.4 million people every year.
A current outbreak of salmonella from cucumbers has infected 418 people in 31 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Arizona Daily Star reported the death of a woman after eating a tainted cucumber.
In the PCA outbreak, former company employees described filthy conditions at the plant in southwest Georgia. Federal inspectors found roaches, rats, mold, dirt, accumulated grease and bird droppings during their raid. They also found a leaky roof.
Salmonella is often associated with meat, poultry, eggs and raw milk — products from animals that are carriers of the bacteria. It also thrives in the intestines of birds and can be found in fruits and vegetables and in ingredients made from them.
The presence of water in what is supposed to be a dry processing facility for peanuts is like adding gasoline to fire for salmonella, food safety experts say.
Health officials discovered similar poor conditions at PCA’s other processing plant in Plainview, Texas. The company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection shortly after it was shut down.
Two former plant managers worked out deals with the government in exchange for their testimony.
“The sentence that was handed down today means that executives will no longer be able to hide behind the corporate veil,” said U.S. Attorney Michael J. Moore of the Middle District of Georgia.
“The tragedy of this case is that at a peanut processing plant in Middle Georgia, protecting the public lost out to increasing of profits. This case was never just about shipping tainted peanut product; it was about making sure individual wrong doers were held accountable and the losses suffered by the victims and their families are never forgotten.”
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