Bill Marler, the nation’s leading lawyer representing victims of foodborne illness outbreaks, praised the U.S. Justice Department today for indicting former Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) officials for their part in a nationwide Salmonella outbreak that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says resulted in 714 Salmonella cases and 9 deaths in 2008 and 2009.
According to the Justice Department, in a 76-count indictment unsealed yesterday, Stewart Parnell of Lynchburg, Va., Michael Parnell of Midlothian, Va. and Samuel Lightsey of Blakeley, Ga. were charged with the following: Mail and wire fraud, the introduction of adulterated and misbranded food into interstate commerce with the intent to defraud or mislead, and conspiracy. Stewart Parnell, Lightsey and Mary Wilkerson of Edison, Ga. were also charged with obstruction of justice.
In a press release, the Justice Department stated:
The charging documents charge that Stewart Parnell, Michael Parnell, Lightsey and Kilgore participated in a scheme to manufacture and ship salmonella-contaminated peanuts and peanut products, and in so doing misled PCA customers. about the existence of foodborne pathogens, most notably salmonella, in the peanut products PCA sold to them. As the charging documents allege, the members of the conspiracy did so in several ways – for example, even when laboratory testing revealed the presence of salmonella in peanut products from the Blakely plant, Stewart Parnell, Michael Parnell, Lightsey and Kilgore failed to notify customers of the presence of salmonella in the products shipped to them.
Lou Tousignant, whose father died after eating Salmonella-contaminated PCA products, said, "I would like to say that today was an emotional day for my family. This was the goal from day one. To see criminal charges brought to the leaders of PCA, I feel will do more for food safety than any regulation that we could impose. A conviction in this case, I hope, would have others that make similar business decisions stop and think twice. Hopefully, the loss of my father and the others affected can help others from suffering the same fate."
“These indictments will have a far reaching impact on the food industry,” said attorney Bill Marler, who represented hundreds of individuals in claims against PCA. “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.”
Gabrielle Meunier added, "As FSMA is rolling out, this indictment will be a strong warning that food safety is serious business ... All of our long-standing doubts over justice in this case have been relieved. An awesome moment! A big thanks to the U.S. Justice Department for not letting us down."
Some of Marler’s clients, including Tousignant and Meunier, held a news conference, urging the Justice Department to bring charges against Parnell in February of 2011. “It’s been a long time coming,” Marler concluded.
BACKGROUND: William Marler has represented thousands of victims of foodborne illnesses such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria. His law firm, Marler Clark, is the only law firm in the nation with a practice dedicated exclusively to representing victims of foodborne illness.