No testing, but an A+ on audits: Lenient sentences for ex-peanut officials in Salmonella outbreak

USA Today reports that two ex-officials of Peanut Corporation of America drew lenient sentences Thursday for their self-admitted roles in a Salmonella outbreak blamed for killing nine and sickening hundreds.

AIB.audit.eggsGeorgia U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands sentenced Samuel Lightsey, 50, a former operations manager at the peanut firm’s Blakely, Ga. plant, to serve three years in prison. Daniel Kilgore, 46, another ex-manager at the plant, drew a six-year sentence from the judge.

Sands allowed them to remain free, pending voluntary surrender after the U.S. Bureau of Prisons designates the correctional facilities where they will serve their sentences.

Both reached plea agreements with prosecutors that limited their punishment when they pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, along with sale of misbranded and adulterated food.

They later testified as government witnesses during the 2014 federal trial that ended with criminal convictions of ex-Peanut corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell and two other former top executives.

The case stemmed from findings by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that traced a national salmonella outbreak to the Parnell firm’s peanut roasting plant in Blakely. The incident sickened 714 people in 46 states and may have contributed to nine deaths, the CDC reported.

The illnesses erupted in January 2009 and prompted one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history.

Parnell, 61, was sentenced to a virtual life term — 28 years behind bars — on Sept. 21. His brother, Michael Parnell, received a 20-year term, and former quality control manager Mary Wilkerson, drew a five-year sentence.

Sands ordered the Parnell brothers to surrender immediately, denying defense arguments that they should be permitted to remain free on bond pending appeals of their convictions.

Government evidence presented at the trial established that Lightsey and Kilgore knowingly helped the top executives fabricate certificates of analysis in a scheme that falsely showed peanut butter from the Blakely plant was free of Salmonella and other pathogens. In fact, there had been no testing of the product, or tests had confirmed contamination, prosecutors showed.