Update-Sentences Affirmed on January 23, 2018 Corp. Executive Liability Sentence Largest Ever in Food Safety History
AFFIRMED: See: United States v. Parnell, et. al, No. 15-14400 (11th Cir. Jan. 23, 2018) Click on the link for the appellate court decision. Court of Appeals Opinion
Former Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) President and Owner Stewart Parnell received a criminal prison sentence of 28 years in connection with the 2009 salmonella poisoning outbreak of 700 reported cases in 46 states. Expert evidence presented at trial detailed that there were nine deaths linked to PCAs tainted products. Parnell’s brother Michael received a 20 year prison sentence. The Quality Assurance employee received a 5 year sentence. They were sentenced based on their roles at PCA by shipping salmonella-positive peanut products and by falsifying microbiological test results. A federal jury convicted the Parnell brothers in September 2014 on several counts of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud as well as selling misbranded food. Stewart Parnell was also convicted for introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. Stewart Parnell and Quality Assurance Manager Mary Wilkerson were also convicted of obstruction of justice. According to U. S. Justice Attorney Moore, “The sentence that was handed down today [Sept. 21, 2015] means that executives will no longer be able to hide behind the corporate veil”. The direct link to the sentences in the Parnell Salmonella Tainted Peanut Product case is below and court of appeals opinion above.
AFFIRMED: See: United States v. Parnell, et. al, No. 15-14400 (11th Cir. Jan. 23, 2018 (affirmed)). Click on the link Court of Appeals Opinion
Corporate Executive Liability Food Safety—Felony Conviction
Peanut Corporation of America Background
The former owner of Peanut Corporation of America Peanut Corp.) Stewart Parnell was convicted on September 19, 2014 of conspiracy and other charges in connection with a deadly salmonella outbreak that occurred in 2008-2009. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nine people died and over 700 others became ill in 2008-09 after eating peanut butter or other products prepared at the company’s plant in Georgia. Mr. Parnell, was found guilty on several counts, including wire fraud and obstruction of justice. The indictment was centered on a conspiracy to conceal that several of Peanut Corp.’s products were contaminated with salmonella. Others involved and convicted included the brother of Stewart Parnell, Michael Parnell, a food broker who worked on behalf of Peanut Corp. and the quality assurance manager, Mary Wilkerson, for obstruction of justice. Two other former Peanut Corp. employees has previously pled guilty to multiple charges.
Prosecutors alleged that Peanut Corp. not only defrauded customers but also defrauded several national food companies by failing to inform them about the presence of food-borne pathogens in laboratory tests, including salmonella. According to prosecutors, in some instances, despite these results, Peanut Corp. officials totally falsified lab results, maintaining peanut products were safe for consumption. Further, at times, the Peanut Corp. failed to even perform testing.
Corporate Liability Significance
Although for years, corporate executives have been charged with misdemeanor offenses under the strict criminal liability theory known as the Park doctrine, this case is distinguishable. The Peanut Corp. case represents a felony prosecution under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The Peanut Corp. prosecution serves as a wake up call to the regulated food safety industry.
Outcome and Sentencing
Peanut Corp. filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection weeks after the outbreak began. The felony convictions mean the possibility of a extensive prison sentence and fines.