Stewart Parnell once owned Peanut Corporation of America, the source of salmonella food poisoning that sickened people in 714 reported cases and was linked to nine deaths across the U.S. from 2008 to 2009. On Friday, a federal jury in Albany, Georgia, held Parnell to account for the outbreak, and convicted him of conspiracy and other charges.
Along with Parnell, the jury found Parnell's brother, former peanut broker Michael Parnell, guilty of conspiracy, and convicted Mary Wilkerson, a former quality assurance manager at the company's Blakely, Georgia plant, of obstruction of justice. "Experts say it is the first time corporate executives and plant workers have gone to trial in a food poisoning case," the Associated Press reported.
The Blakely plant roasted raw peanuts, and shipped products such as peanut butter and peanut paste to customers nationwide, including Kellogg's. The U.S. Department of Justice accused the Parnells of fabricating lab results when food had never actually been tested, as well as when tests revealed products were contaminated.
The salmonella outbreak led to one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history, Peanut Corporation's filing for bankruptcy, Congressional hearings, and, eventually, a 76-count indictment from federal prosecutors.
"I'd like to ask him, 'How did you think this was going to work out for you?' " Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Texas) said, in reference to Stewart Parnell, back in 2009.
Friday's verdicts brought a seven-week trial to a close. The jury convicted Stewart Parnell of 67 felony counts in total, including mail fraud, wire fraud, the sale of misbranded food, the sale of adulterated food, and obstruction, in addition to conspiracy. Michael Parnell was also found guilty of multiple counts.
The judge in the case has not set a date yet for sentencing.