In 2009, the US had one of the worst salmonella outbreaks in recent times, prompting one of the biggest product recalls in US history. Over 700 individuals got sick and the outbreak was linked to nine deaths. From this tragedy, nine wrongful death lawsuits were already approved in 2010. And now a criminal case has been set to start in Albany, Georgia, in February 2014 for the former owner of the company at issue and several of his employees.
The company is Peanut Corporation of America, which no longer exists due to the ramifications of this outbreak, which were linked to the company’s processing plants in Texas and Georgia. Two of those charged are brothers- Stewart Parnell, the former owner of PCA, and Michael Parnell who worked for a broker on behalf of the company. Others involved in the criminal case are Mary Wilkerson and Samuel Lightsey, who managed a PCA plant in Blakely, Georgia. In February this group was charged with 72 counts. The indictment alleges that they covered up knowledge of the presence of salmonella for years, all the way back to 2003, even faking certificates for products when lab tests were positive for salmonella. Among the 72 charges are conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and adulterated or misbranded food in interstate commerce with the intent to defraud or mislead. It also includes a charge that three of the four misled federal officials. Stewart Parnell is also charged with obstruction of justice. A statement issued at the time of the indictment by the Justice Department’s Civil Division head, Stuart Delery, said, “When those responsible for producing or supplying our food lie and cut corners, as alleged in the indictment, they put all of us at risk.”
Early this month a federal judge at the US District Court in Albany set the start of the trial for February 10, 2014. The trial was originally scheduled to start on October 7, but it has been delayed because discovery of evidence by both sides is taking longer than expected. The two Parnell brothers are trying to get the case severed so they can have separate trials. They say their cases are “antagonistic and mutually exclusive”. Joint trials are more efficient and prosecutors want a joint trial here especially because of the conspiracy charges. Both Stewart and Michael Parnell claim they are not guilty to the charges against them.