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 12-member 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. They 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.
The Consequences and Charges:
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 12-member jury found Stewart Parnell guilty on 67 federal felony counts, Michael Parnell, age 55, was found guilty on 30 counts, and Wilkerson was found guilty of one of the two counts of obstruction of justice charged against her.
The convictions are enough to send both brothers to federal prison for the rest of their lives as each count carries a maximum sentence of five or 10 years. However, neither is known to have any previous convictions, and federal sentencing guidelines will come into play after a federal sentencing report is completed for each of the three.
Wilkerson faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
History of Salmonella Outbreak in the US:
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.