October 27, 2015
On September 21, 2015, a former peanut executive was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison for his involvement in salmonella poisoning in 2008 and 2009 that claimed the lives of nine people and resulted in illness for an estimated 700 others. The 61-year-old owner of the now defunct company was convicted of 71 counts in 2014, including wire fraud and obstruction of justice. Prosecutors, along with victims and their relatives, sought a life sentence in the case. His lawyer claimed that the recommendation was “truly absurd” and said that he ate the products and gave them to his family, including his grandchildren.
A former manager reported that he knew something was wrong when the plant shipped peanut products across the nation without waiting for lab results that declared the products free of salmonella. When he told upper management about it, his concerns were brushed off. In return for confessing to reduced charges, he testified against the owner and three other executives and also received a lesser sentence.
The trial lasted seven weeks and included evidence via e-mails, lab tests and financial reports that the executive knew and concealed the contamination, telling employees that he could not afford to lose customers. As a result, he and others fabricated test results and concealed evidence that the products were contaminated. Court reports indicated that some of the food containers were covered with dust and rat feces.
A 2013 report in the Washington Post indicated serious safety and health code violations at the plant, including insects, water leaks and mold and a minimum of six positive tests for salmonella on the products. Despite these findings, the plant had claimed a top food-safety record.
The plant prepares and ships peanut products to other major food corporations, such as Kellogg’s. These contaminated products were then used in various foods and pet treats, which spread to nearly every state and in Canada, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Now that the criminal case is resolved, family members might decide to take civil action in the deaths and injuries of their loved ones. A personal injury lawyer can file a lawsuit on their behalf to hold the responsible parties accountable.