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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Peanut Honchos Indicted on Salmonella Outbreak

(CN) - Leaders of the now-shuttered Peanut Corp. of America face federal charges related to a 2009 salmonella outbreak in the United States traced back to a plant in Blakely, Ga.

The Blakely plant was a peanut-roasting facility where Peanut Corp. of America, or PCA, roasted raw peanuts and produced granulated peanuts, peanut butter and peanut paste.

It appeared on the radar of the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2009 as they investigated a national outbreak of salmonella.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department unsealed a 76-count indictment that charges four former officials of PCA and a related company for their roles in the outbreak.

Stewart Parnell, 58, of Lynchburg, Va.; Michael Parnell, 54, of Midlothian, Va.; and Samuel Lightsey, 48, of Blakely, Ga.; were 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 also charged with obstruction of justice.

Prosecutors also unsealed an information against Daniel Kilgore, 44, of Blakely, charging 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. He pleaded guilty to those charges Wednesday, the same day they were filed.

PCA customers ranged in size from small, family-owned businesses to global, multibillion-dollar food companies, according to a statement from the Justice Department.

When it was in operation, Stewart Parnell served as PCA's owner and president. Michael Parnell worked on behalf of PCA as a food broker and worked at P.P. Sales. Lightsey was the operations manager at the Blakely plant from roughly July 2008 through February 2009. Wilkerson worked variously at the Blakely plant as a receptionist, office manager and quality assurance manager from roughly April 2002 through February 2009. Kilgore served as operations manager of the PCA plant in Blakely from roughly June 2002 through May 2008.

As an example of how the officers misled customers about the quality and purity of their peanut products, prosecutors pointed out that they stayed mum "even when laboratory testing revealed the presence of salmonella in peanut products from the Blakely plant."

The Parnells, Lightsey and Kilgore also allegedly schemed "to fabricate certificates of analysis (COAs) accompanying various shipments of peanut products," the Justice Department said in a statement.

These fabricated COAs stated that shipments of peanut products were free of pathogens "when, in fact, there had been no tests on the products at all or when the laboratory results showed that a sample tested positive for salmonella," it added.

Stewart Parnell, Lightsey and Wilkerson allegedly lied to investigators about plant operations in 2009.

The Justice Department has a website for individuals who feel that they may have been affected by or have become ill from tainted PCA products, and businesses that purchased products that were recalled as a result of the outbreak. They should visit https://forms.fbi.gov/pca-salmonella-tainted-product-case .

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