A former peanut company executive was sentenced to 28 years in prison Monday for his part in a salmonella outbreak that resulted in nine deaths and hundreds of sick Americans. Stewart Parnell received one of the worst punishments ever given to a manufacturer in a foodborne illness case, Associated Press reports.
A federal judge in Georgia, U.S. District Judge W. Louis Sands, sentenced the 61-year-old former CEO of Peanut Corporation of America to 28 years in prison along with the former exec’s co-defendant and brother, Michael Parnell, to 20 years in prison for his crimes. Additionally, a former quality control manager at the firm, Mary Wilkerson, received a five-year sentence for her role, according to USA Today.
And though the head of PCA got a brutal sentencing, he could have gone to prison for life, according to federal calculations. However, it is still the strongest case in a food-borne illness case. Parnell’s attorney is planning to appeal, according to Time Magazine.
A food safety lawyer, Bill Marler, told Time in an email that he thinks “the fact that [Stewart] was prosecuted at all is a victory for customers.” “Although his sentence is less than the maximum, it is the longest sentence in a food poisoning case. This sentence is going to send a stiff, cold wind through Board Rooms across the U.S,” Marler added.
Parnell was convicted more than one year ago for 65 counts of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, mail and wire fraud and other charges. He was the first PCA executive to be convicted of a federal felony for a food-borne illness case.
The sentencings derive from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration findings that followed a national salmonella outbreak to the Parnell company’s peanut roasting plant in Blakely, Ga., USA Today reports. The outbreak may have contributed to the deaths of nine people, and it caused 714 people in 46 states to become ill.
The sickness started in January 2009 and prompted one of the biggest food recalls ever.
One of the victims was Jacob Hurley, 10, who was only 3 years old when he got sick from the peanut butter. I think it’s OK for him to spend the rest of his life in prison,” Jacob told the judge.
Jeff Almer, 72, said his mother was battling cancer when she died from eating the peanut butter in 2008. “You took my mom,” Almer said. “You kicked her right off the cliff,” he added, AP reports.