Peanut Corp. of America executives indicted over salmonella
Four former officials of the Peanut Corp. of America were indicted by the U.S. over the sale of salmonella-tainted peanut products that sparked national outrage in 2009 after being tied to nine deaths.
Stewart Parnell, president of the now liquidated Peanut Corp., was charged along with three managers in a 76-count indictment unsealed Wednesday in federal court in Albany, Ga. He’s charged with conspiracy, wire fraud and introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead.
“It was part of the conspiracy that the defendants and others shipped and caused to be shipped peanut products before receiving the results of microbiological testing performed on said products,” according to the indictment.
The charges were filed four years after the salmonella outbreak set off a political firestorm in Washington. The recall sparked by Peanut Corp., one of the largest processors in the U.S., took more than 800 products made with peanuts off the shelves including cookies, crackers and cereal. Congress called Parnell to testify while President Obama urged a “complete review” of the Food and Drug Administration because it failed to prevent contamination of peanut butter linked to the nine deaths and more than 700 illnesses.
Closely held Peanut Corp., based in Lynchburg, Va., filed for bankruptcy in 2009 after the outbreak was traced to its processing plants in Georgia and Texas. Dead rodents and droppings were found near a production area, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
“When food or drug manufacturers lie and cut corners, they put all of us at risk,” Stuart Delery, who heads the Justice Department’s civil division, said at a news conference yesterday in Washington.
Also named in the indictment are Michael Parnell, a vice president in charge of sales, Samuel Lightsey, an operations manager, and Mary Wilkerson, a quality assurance manager.
Daniel Kilgore, operations manager of Peanut Corp.’s plant in Blakely, Ga., pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges including conspiracy, fraud and introduction of adulterated products, according to prosecutors. Kilgore conspired with the Parnells and Lightsey in a scheme to manufacture and ship salmonella-contaminated peanuts and peanut products to customers, including family-owned businesses and global food companies, according to the indictment. The customers aren’t identified by name.
Prosecutors said that even when laboratory testing revealed the presence of salmonella in products at the Blakely facility, the conspirators failed to alert their customers. They also fabricated documents that showed the products were free of pathogens when no tests had been conducted or lab results tested positive for salmonella, according to the indictment.