March 20, 2018

Peanut Corporation of America Executives Convicted

A federal jury has convicted Stewart Parnell, Michael Parnell, and Mary Wilkerson in connection with a Salmonella outbreak linked to their company’s peanut butter. That outbreak sickened at least 700 people in 46 states and killed nine. The jury was not allowed to consider the deaths from the contaminated product in their deliberations.

GavelStewart Parnell was found guilty on 76 felony counts of mail fraud, introduction of adulterated food into commerce, wire fraud, and conspiracy; Michael Parnell was found guilty on 30 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, and intro ducting misbranded products into interstate commerce; and Wilkerson was found guilty on one count of obstruction of justice. The Parnell brothers could go to prison for their set of their lives. Wilkerson could face up to 10 years in prison.

Peanuts and peanut butter were shipped from Peanut Corporation of America’s facility in Blakely, Georgia even after the products tested positive for Salmonella bacteria. Fake tests were used by company officials to convince customers that the products were safe. The recall of PCA peanut butter and peanut products was one of the largest in U.S. history.

Pritzker Olsen represented clients against PCA in the 2008-09 outbreak. Nellie Napier, a resident of a nursing home in Ohio ate the tainted peanut butter in 2009 and died a few weeks later from salmonellosis. Salmonella Typhimurium was found in the container of peanut butter served to Ms. Napier and was a genetic match to bacteria that sickened others.

Stewart Parnell’s famous email “just ship it” was referred to several times in the trial. Prosecutors alleged that Parnell approved the shipments of the contaminated product “whatever the risk.” Defense attorneys presented their case for just one hour; prosecutors presented their evidence for more than a month. The judge is weighing whether or not to jail the defendants before sentencing, which will occur at a later date.

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