A U.S. District judge in Albany, GA has sentenced 61-year-old Stewart Parnell to 28 years in federal prison for his role in shipping contaminated food that killed 9 people and sickened at least 700 others in 2008 and 2009, causing one of the largest foodborne outbreaks in U.S. history.
Parnell–former owner of Peanut Corporation of America (PCA)–was convicted last year of knowingly shipping peanut butter that was contaminated with Salmonella bacteria. He was also found guilty of faking laboratory tests to hide said contamination. He was immediately taken into custody.
In court, Parnell reportedly said to the victims and families, “I think about you guys every day.” While he did acknowledge that his Blakely, GA plant had problems, he failed to address the emails and records that proved he knew about the plant’s Salmonella problems and did nothing to fix it. The subsequent outbreak cost PCA’s customers an estimated $144 million. The judge believes that Parnell's poor judgement was an effort to protect his company's profits.
By far, this 28 year sentence is the most severe punishment handed down to anyone implicated in a foodborne outbreak investigation. In July, the U.S. Probation Office had suggested a life sentence was appropriate for Parnell's crimes–conspiracy, obstruction of justice and wire fraud.
Update: Stewart's brother--Michael Parnell--has been sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. Like his brother, he was immediately taken into custody.
Update: The third co-defendant--Mary Wilkerson--has been sentenced fo 5 years in prison for her role in the case which included obstruction of justice. However, she remains free on a $25,000 bond. In the meantime, the Bureau of Prisons will assign Wilkerson to a specific prison facility, followed by the U.S. Probation Office's announcement of her voluntary surrender.