714 sickened and 9 dead from Salmonella peanut butter

Former Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell, his brother and one-time peanut broker, Michael Parnell, and Mary Wilkerson, former quality control manager at the company’s Blakely, Georgia, plant, were all found guilty today by a federal jury in Albany, Georgia.

The 12-member jury found Stewart Parnell guilty on 67 federal felony counts, Michael Parnell was found guilty on 30 counts, and Wilkerson was found guilty of one of the two counts of obstruction of justice charged against her. Two other PCA employees earlier pled guilty.  Download Verdict Form PDF.

Stewart, you are going to jail for a long, long time.

In talking to AP, CNN and the Wall Street Journal:

AP:  The case has been closely followed by the food industry and could rattle some executives, said Bill Marler, an attorney who has represented victims of food-borne illnesses for two decades, including many who got sick after eating Peanut Corporation’s food.

“I think the fact that these guys were charged with felonies and have now been convicted of felonies and obviously are going to face some substantial potential for jail time and fines, I think, sends a pretty strong message to the food industry that U.S. attorneys are willing to charge people with crimes,” Marler said.

Marler said he hopes Friday’s verdict will send a message to corporations that they cannot get away with this kind of behavior.

CNN:  The prosecution was unprecedented, Marler said, because the Department of Justice charged the Parnell brothers with felonies. Prior cases involved misdemeanors.

“Prosecutors took a risk and fortunately, the jury believed them,” Marler said. “The jury saw this for what it was. The emails and documents told a story of a company that was more interested in shipping out products than products that were safe.”

Wall Street Journal:  The conviction represents one of the first times that a corporate executive has been found guilty on criminal counts under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, legal experts said, and comes amid an intensified focus by federal prosecutors on food-safety cases. The Justice Department earlier this year brought charges against the owners of an Iowa egg company linked to a 2010 salmonella outbreak. Last year, the owners of a Colorado cantaloupe farm pleaded guilty to federal misdemeanor charges related to a 2011 listeria outbreak.

“What this tells us is that U.S. attorneys are now more willing to charge people for food crimes than they have been in the past,” said Bill Marler, a Seattle lawyer who represents victims of food-borne illnesses, including some in the Peanut Corp. case. “For companies, it argues for paying a lot more attention to food safety than you’ve had to in the past.”

What I said to the press before the trial:

“These charges will make other food executives take notice.”

“In 20 years, this is the first time I’ve seen a criminal indictment of this magnitude, however, I have also been contacted by federal law-enforcement officials investigating a 2010 salmonella outbreak linked to eggs from Iowa and a 2011 Colorado listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupes.”

“These indictments will have a far reaching impact on the food industry.”

“Corporate executives and directors of food safety will need to think hard about the safety of their product when it enters the stream of commerce. Felony counts like this one are rare, but misdemeanor charges that can include fines and jail time can and should happen.”

“If I were an executive of a company, today I’d be asking my lawyers, how does this not happen to me?”