Before the executive were sentenced, former Peanut Corporation of America proprietor Stewart Parnell heeded as nine victims testified against him regarding their panic and grief.
Despite the harshness of the punishments handed down, Parnell and his co-defendants were never held criminally accountable for the deaths their actions caused.
Speaking in a shaky voice and wearing a rumpled white shirt and khaki trousers , Parnell acknowledged problems at his peanut plant, but he never addressed the emails and company records.
For the first time, the law took aim at preventing food-borne illnesses rather than just responding to contamination that had already occurred.
The sentence – 28 years for 61-year-old Stewart Parnell – was the harshest ever given for this type of case.
“It’s been a seven-year nightmare for me and my family”, Parnell told the judge.
In 2014, a federal jury convicted the former CEO of not only knowingly selling tainted peanut butter, but of actively hiding the fact by faking lab results. The company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy shortly after it was shut down. He was also sentenced to serve three years of probation after the prison term.
“Our government seems to be sending a clear message that poisoning your customers may well land you in jail”, said Bill Marler, a Seattle food safety lawyer who represented several victims of the outbreak, including Almer.
At the sentencing hearing for Parnell and his colleagues, relatives of some of the victims confronted Parnell with stories of their suffering.
Stewart Parnell once boasted processing the “finest” peanut products.
“Americans should be able to trust that the food we buy for ourselves and our families is safe”, Stuart Delery, the Justice Department’s acting associate attorney general, said in a statement Monday.
An official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testified at the trial that the company’s peanut products sickened 714 people in 46 states, including 166 of whom were hospitalized. The ensuing outbreak was blamed for nine deaths and hundreds of illnesses, and led to the biggest food recall in United States history.
“I really struggled with trying to forgive this guy, because he claims no responsibility whatsoever”, said Almer, according to the Washington Post.
Stewart Parnell will appeal the conviction and the sentence, his attorney, Tom Bondurant, said in a phone interview.
Parnell’s brother, Michael, and a former quality control manager at the company were also sentenced to prison Monday for their roles in the crimes. Parnell was convicted of knowingly shipping contaminated product and of falsifying records and lab reports on his products.
Parnell apologized to those sickened in the outbreak and to the families of those killed.
During the trial, federal prosecutors presented more than 1,000 documents, including a March 2007 email from Stewart Parnell to a plant manager about the tainted peanut butter.