On Monday, the former CEO of Peanut Corp. of America Stewart Parnell was sentenced to prison for shipping and selling salmonella tainted peanuts which led to the death of 9 people between 2008 and 2009. Parnell will now spend 28 years behind bars, although prosecutors sought a life sentence.
It is the first time a food-related crime gets such a harsh punishment, but U.S. District Judge W. Louis Sands argued that the peanut executive had known the risks and despite that he continued marketing the contaminated products in a “desire to profit.”
“This is commonly and accurately referred to as greed,”
the judge added.
However, Monday was a tough day for both sides. Victims’ relatives tried to persuade the judge to give the most severe punishment, while Parnell’s family tried to excuse the former executive for his reckless, non-professional behavior.
One of the victims who was sickened after eating the company’s peanut-based products, Jacob Hurley, was only 3 years old when he got the good-borne disease and needed to be hospitalized. Hurley told reporters he would want to see the exec behind bars for the rest of his life.
Jeff Almer, the son of a woman who died because of salmonella poisoning accused Parnell, 61, of taking the life of his mother.
On the other hand, Parnell’s mother tried to defend him, and so did his daughter who described him as a caring father who always put others before his needs. The former CEO’s son asked the judge to be merciful towards his father.
But the defendant faces more than 70 charges including intentionally shipping contaminated foods in the U.S., wire fraud, and obstruction of justice. Parnell, however, declined to testify during the lawsuit or before Congress.
Yet, on Monday he broke the silence and apologized to consumers for what happened. He also said that he was thinking about victims’ families daily and that he was “truly sorry” for what he did.
Although the Virginian-based company boasted about its exceptional food safety policies, its own testing had shown on multiple occasions that the products were contaminated with salmonella. And, despite Parnell knowing this, he continued to ship the tainted products across the U.S.
Food safety inspectors also found dirty equipment, roaches, and cross-contamination hazards at Parnell’s main plant. They also found from the former executive’s correspondence that he agreed with shipments despite knowing that they might be tainted.
Despite salmonella outbreaks that led to the deaths of dozens of people, the executives of the companies that marketed contaminated foods were not punished so severely as Parnell was this Monday.
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