Criminal defense attorneys have noticed for the past five or six years that the focus of federal prosecutors across the country has been more and more on so-called white collar crimes and less on drug crimes. The case against Stewart Parnell is an example of this.
Parnell is the former CEO of the Peanut Corporation of America. He and his brother, a food broker, were both sentenced to more than 20 years in prison for their roles in a salmonella outbreak in peanut butter. There are several things about this case which make both the prosecution and the sentence notable.
The salmonella outbreak caused more than 700 people who ate tainted peanut butter products to get sick, 9 people died. There have been much larger and far more deadly outbreaks of food borne illness across the country so it wasn’t the outbreak itself that caught the interest of federal prosecutors. Investigators found emails showing Parnell and others inside the company knew they were shipping salmonella tainted peanut butter and they tried to cover it up.
Parnell was sentenced to 28 years, functionally a life sentence given his age. Parnell’s sentence is ground breaking because in other food safety cases, executives were usually sentenced to probation and received fines. There are other recent salmonella outbreaks, a current outbreak has made more than 400 people sick from eating contaminated cantaloupes and cucumbers.