• Tainted peanut products linked to 700 cases, 9 deaths in 2009
  • Longest sentence in food safety case, prosecutors say

Former Peanut Corp. of America Chief Executive Officer Stewart Parnell was sentenced to 28 years in prison for his role in shipping salmonella-tainted products linked to nine deaths in 2009.

Parnell, 61, and his brother, Michael Parnell, 56, were accused of misleading customers about the presence of salmonella in Peanut Corp. products and fabricated documents stating the food was untainted. The company’s products were linked to a salmonella outbreak that spread to 46 states and included 700 reported cases, U.S. prosecutors said Monday in a statement.

The Parnells were convicted last September of multiple counts of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud and the sale of misbranded food. Michael Parnell, a company food broker, was sentenced to 20 years, prosecutors said.

A third defendant, Mary Wilkerson, 41, office manager at the company’s Blakely, Georgia, plant, was sentenced to five years.

“Americans should be able to trust that the food we buy for ourselves and our families is safe,” Stuart F. Delery, acting Associate U.S. Attorney General, said in the statement.

Stewart Parnell will appeal the conviction and the sentence, his attorney, Tom Bondurant, said in a phone interview. He said the conviction was the product of “juror misconduct.”

“A lot of the jurors talked amongst each other on evidence that wasn’t in trial,” Bondurant said.

The jurors discussed the deaths and this wasn’t a part of the trial, Bondurant said.

Peanut Corp. filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and ceased operations

The case is U.S. v. Parnell, 13-cr-00012, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Georgia (Albany).

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