A 76-count indictment was unsealed Wednesday evening, charging four former officials of the Peanut Corporation of America and a related company with numerous charges relating to salmonella-tainted peanuts and peanut products, the Justice Department announced Thursday.
Stewart Parnell, 58, of Lynchburg, Va.; Michael Parnell, 54, of Midlothian, Va.; and Samuel Lightsey, 48, of Blakely, Ga., have been charged with mail and wire fraud, the introduction of adulterated and misbranded food into interstate commerce with the intent to defraud or mislead, and conspiracy.
Stewart Parnell, Lightsey and Mary Wilkerson, 39, of Edison, Ga., were charged also with obstruction of justice.
Four PCA officials indicted on fraud, conspiracy allegations
Also Wednesday, an information filed against Daniel Kilgore, 44, of Blakely was unsealed. On the same day that charges against Kilgore were filed, he pleaded guilty to that information, which charged him with mail and wire fraud, the introduction of adulterated and misbranded food into interstate commerce with the intent to defraud or mislead, and conspiracy.
Michael J. Moore, the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, said Thursday in a press call that mail and wire fraud and conspiracy each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison; the interstate shipment charge carries a maximum of three years. Moore noted that no charges carry a mandatory minimum sentence.
The Justice Department clarifies that an indictment is only an allegation, and every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Indictments stem from 2009 salmonella outbreak
The investigation into the activity at PCA began in 2009, after the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traced a national outbreak of salmonella to a PCA plant in Blakely as the likely source. As alleged in the indictment, the Blakely plant was a peanut roasting facility where PCA roasted raw peanuts and produced granulated peanuts, peanut butter, and peanut paste; PCA sold these peanut products to its customers around the country.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 700 people reported being ill from salmonella poisoning during the outbreak, and many illnesses were traced back to peanut products produced by PCA.