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Peanut Company Indicted on Fraud Charges for Salmonella Outbreak in 2009

Update Date: Feb 21, 2013 01:33 PM EST

The United States of America has formally charged four ex-employees of the Peanut Corporation of America, a peanut processing company based in Virginia for the salmonella outbreak back in 2009. The outbreak had spread over 42 states and caused roughly 600 people to fall ill to the bacteria, with at least 67 hospitalized and nine dead. Today, the Georgia Grand Jury indicted former company owner Stewart Parnell, 58 on criminal charges of fraud, stating that he knowingly allowed salmonella contaminated products to be distributed throughout the nation. The other three that were charged included ex-plant supervisor and brother of Stewart, Michael Parnell, 54, former plant operator Samuel Lightsey, 39, and former quality assurance manager Mary Wilkerson, 39.

According to the 76-count indictment, the four ex-employees of the company are also being charged with shipment fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. The judge also approved of a $12 million settlement for over 100 victims of the outbreak.

The conspiracy charges stemmed from June 2003 to February 2009 in which Stewart Parnell allowed his company to distribute peanut products that tested positive for salmonella the first time, but not necessarily the second time. These products were released at least 12 times to consumers. The court used evidence from the senior Parnell's emails which indicted his involvement with the distribution of contaminated products.  

It is believed that the outbreak was caused by the lack of cleanliness at its Georgia based plant, stating that there was mold and cockroaches present at the factory. The company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection several weeks after the outbreak. The recall in 2009 was also one of the biggest recalls in the history of the nation. The evidence surrounding this case shows the lack of concern and responsibility that should have been exhibited by these high managerial employees. 

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