Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell was sentenced to serve 28 years in prison for shipping salmonella tainted products and covering up test results.
Families of the nine who deaths and illnesses were linked to salmonella in peanut butter in 2008 and 2009 were pleased with the sentence.
Two former executives with the Peanut Corporation of America and a broker who worked with the company received prison sentences.
Two more executives, Michael Parnell, 56, and quality control manager Mary Wilkerson, 41, were also sentenced Monday. The former PCA CEO was sentenced in Albany, not far from the city of Blakely where his peanut processing plant once profited.
“Americans should be able to trust that the food we buy for ourselves and our families is safe”, Stuart Delery, the Justice Department’s acting associate attorney general, said in a statement Monday.
In May, another peanut butter producer, ConAgra, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor criminal charge of violating the FDA protocol in connection with a salmonella outbreak.
While the judge made clear his final verdict and issued the sentences, Stewart Parnell stated; “These long seven-years has been a nightmare for me and my family”.
“It should be enough to send a message to the other manufacturers that this is not going to be tolerated anymore and they had better inspect their food”, said Randy Napier, whose 80-year-old mother died from salmonella poisoning after eating peanut butter from Parnell’s plant. Parnell was convicted of knowingly shipping contaminated product and of falsifying records and lab reports on his products. That outbreak killed nine people and sickened at least 714 others in 46 states and Canada.
The Parnell brothers were convicted by a federal jury on September 19, 2014, of multiple counts of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, and the sale of misbranded food.
In one memorable email exchange, when Parnell was told that a shipment was delayed because results of salmonella tests weren’t yet available, he wrote back, “Just ship it”.
Stewart Parnell, who still maintains his innocence, was understandably anxious to put the ordeal behind him.
U.S. District Judge Louis Sands gave Michael Parnell 20 years in prison.
Former Peanut Corporation of American owner Stewart Parnell buried his face in his hand Monday as his daughter told a federal judge “my dad’s heart is genuine”.
Defense attorneys said they plan to appeal both the sentences and convictions.
His lawyer, Scott Austin, said Parnell was devastated by the 28-year sentence.
Parnell’s brother Michael Parnell, was charged with 30 federal felonies and could face up to 19.5 to 24.4 years in prison. “I’m truly, truly sorry for what’s happened”.
The U.S. Probation Office, which prepares pre-sentencing reports to help guide federal judges, recommended the stiff sentence based on the number of illnesses as well as estimates that the outbreak, which triggered one of the largest food recalls in USA history, cost Parnell’s corporate customers $144 million. Most of those who died in the outbreak were older than 70 or had other health conditions.