Three former peanut company top officials were found guilty on charges of conspiracy, fraud, and other federal charges in a groundbreaking case stemming from a deadly salmonella outbreak almost six years ago. The guilty verdict was announced on Friday in connection with a 2009 salmonella outbreak in Peanut Corporation of America products that killed nine people and sickened hundreds.
The Inquisitr previously reported on the case when it was in trial, noting that a peanut plant manager from Georgia told jurors his former employer, Peanut Corporation of America, had been shipping contaminated nuts with fake documents showing them to be salmonella-free before the plant was identified as the source of a nationwide outbreak.
Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell and his brother, food broker Michael Parnell, are accused of shipping tainted products to customers and covering up lab tests showing they contained salmonella. In addition to the two Parnell brothers, former plant quality control manager Mary Wilkerson was also convicted on one count of obstruction of justice.
One piece of evidence that was brought up several times is an email that Stewart Parnell sent when facing shipment delays. The words in the email were shocking, and show that testing was not a priority.
“Just ship it. I cannot afford to (lose) another customer.”
Food safety advocates hope that the guilty verdict will send a message to anyone in the food producing community who may consider placing profits over safety. According to WBTW, experts said it was the first time American food processors have gone to trial on federal charges in a food poisoning case. Food safety advocates applauded the jury verdict reached after a seven-week trial. Jaydee Hanson of the Center For Food Safety said the verdict sends a very clear message to food suppliers.
“The message it sends is actually a pretty simple one: If you deliberately ship and sell contaminated food, there’s now a good chance you might go to jail.”
Reuters reports that sentencing will be in two to three months, with the Parnell brothers facing the possibility of spending the rest of their lives in prison. Wilkerson, meanwhile, is facing up to five years behind bars. The three will be able to remain free until sentencing if they post bond. Scott Austin, attorney for Stewart Parnell, expressed disappointment in the verdict, and said his client would appeal. The Parnells were also both convicted of several counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, and introducing misbranded food into interstate commerce with the intent to defraud or mislead.