The former owner of a peanut company in Georgia was sentenced to
28 years in prison on Monday for his role in a salmonella
outbreak that killed nine people and sickened hundreds, a rare
instance of jail time in a food contamination case.
Stewart Parnell, 61, who once oversaw Peanut Corporation of
America, and his brother, Michael Parnell, 56, who was a food
broker on the company's behalf, were convicted on federal
conspiracy charges in September 2014 for knowingly shipping
salmonella-tainted peanuts to customers.
Contamination at the company's plant in Blakely, Georgia, led to
one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history and forced the
company into liquidation.
U.S. District Judge Louis Sands gave Michael Parnell 20 years in
prison. Mary Wilkerson, 41, a former quality control manager at
the plant who was found guilty of obstruction, was sentenced to
five years in prison.
Stewart Parnell faced life in prison and his brother faced about
The Justice Department described Stewart Parnell's sentence as
the largest in a food safety case.
Before the judge issued the sentences, Stewart Parnell said;
“This has been a seven-year nightmare for me and my family. I’m
truly, truly sorry for what’s happened.”
At Monday's hearing in Albany, Georgia, relatives of several
victims described their suffering and asked for stiff sentences.
Jeff Almer, of Brainerd, Minnesota, said his mother, Shirley
Almer, died after eating tainted peanut butter in 2009, one of
714 people to fall ill.
"My mother died a painful death from salmonella, and the look of
horror on her face as she died shall always haunt me," he said.
"I just hope they ship you all to jail," Almer said.
Stewart Parnell's attorney, Tom Bondurant Jr. vowed to appeal,
contending that the sentences were too harsh. Under federal
rules, the defendants will have to serve at least 85 percent of
their sentences before being eligible for parole.
"Given the ages of these two men, this is a life sentence,"
During the trial, prosecutors said the brothers covered up the
presence of salmonella in their company's peanut products for
years, even creating fake certificates showing they were
uncontaminated despite laboratory results showing otherwise.
The Parnells have said they never knowingly endangered customers.
"No one thought that the products were unsafe or could harm
someone," said Stewart Parnell's daughter, Grey Parnell. "Dad
brought them home to us. We all ate it."