A closely watched criminal trial in Albany, Ga., is now over. Former Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) owner Stewart Parnell, his brother and one-time peanut broker, Michael Parnell, and Mary Wilkerson, former quality control manager at the company’s Blakely, Ga., plant, were all found guilty last month by a federal court jury. Sentencing will come later. Parnell, former chief executive of the now-defunct company with plants in three states producing peanut butter and peanut paste used for its own products and as an ingredient in almost 4,000 others, was convicted by the jury for his role in a deadly Salmonella outbreak that began almost six years ago.
The government accused Parnell, his brother, and the quality control manager of a mammoth conspiracy that involved fraud, wire fraud, obstruction of justice, and knowingly introducing both adulterated and misbranded food into interstate commerce. It was said that food safety took a back seat to getting shipments out, and that Parnell did not care if product contaminated with Salmonella was delivered to customers. While none of the defendants was charged with causing any actual illnesses or deaths, more than 700 people were sickened and nine deaths resulted from the 2008-09 outbreak that led to a four-year criminal investigation and a subsequent 76-count indictment.
The Salmonella outbreak involving PCA was one of the most deadly in modern U.S. history, with three deaths in Minnesota, two in Ohio, two in Virginia and one each in both Idaho and North Carolina. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reported 714 confirmed cases in 46 states, but unreported cases likely topped 22,000.
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