The former head of a Virginia-based peanut company was among four people indicted Thursday on federal charges stemming from a 2009 salmonella outbreak originating from a Georgia processing plant.
Stewart Parnell, 74, the former owner of Peanut Corp. of America, was indicted on fraud and other charges by a Georgia grand jury along with his brother and former Peanut Corp. supervisor Michael Parnell, erstwhile plant operator Samuel Lightley and ex-quality-assurance manager Mary Wilkerson, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The former executive and employees were also charged with shipment fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice in the 76-count indictment handed down by the Macon, Ga.-based grand jury. The indictment was unsealed Thursday.
The 2009 outbreak, caused by filthy conditions at the Georgia processing plant, led to the deaths of nine people; hundreds were sickened, according to the Associated Press. Mold and roaches were found at the plant.
More than 100 salmonella victims were awarded a $12 million settlement that was approved by a federal judge.
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Peanut Corp. of America went bankrupt shortly after the salmonella outbreak.
The company was also connected to prior salmonella contamination of peanut products, according to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigation. The probe determined that Peanut Corp. “knowingly released” peanut products contaminated with salmonella into the food supply at least 12 times in 2007 and 2008, the Journal reported.
According to the indictment, Peanut Corp. engaged in a conspiracy between June 2003 and February 2009 to hide salmonella contamination from customers after the products shipped.
Congress had hearings on the incident, but Stewart Parnell invoked the Fifth Amendment and didn’t testify.
Congressional investigators uncovered emails that showed Parnell told Peanut Corp. employees to “turn them loose,” referring to peanuts that tested positive for salmonella but then were cleared in a second test, the AP reported.
The case gained so much attention that President Barack Obama weighed in on the subject, mentioning that his daughter Sasha eats peanut butter three times a week for lunch.