- Indictment charges four former officials of Peanut Corporation of America
- FDA said plant shipped tainted peanut paste that wound up in crackers, other foods
- Salmonella outbreak in 2009 blamed for nine deaths, hundreds of illnesses
- Food recalls are common, but criminal charges around them are rare
Four former officials of the now-closed Peanut Corporation of America were indicted Thursday on charges related to salmonella-tainted peanuts and peanut products, the Justice Department said.
A 2009 salmonella outbreak that prompted a massive recall of peanut goods led to nine deaths and more than 700 illnesses in more than 40 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The 76-count indictment, unsealed in Georgia, alleged mail and wire fraud, the introduction of adulterated and misbranded food into interstate commerce with the intent to defraud or mislead, and conspiracy.
A plant in Blakely, Georgia, roasted and processed raw peanuts. Its peanut paste was sold to customers nationwide and used in crackers, cookies, and other items.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said the company shipped tainted product it knew had tested positive for bacteria linked to the salmonella outbreak.
U.S. Attorney Michael Moore of Macon said the accused are expected to appear in court in Albany next week.
The defendants were identified as Stewart Parnell, 58, of Lynchburg, Virginia; Michael Parnell, 54, of Midlothian, Virginia; Samuel Lightsey, 48, of Blakely; and Mary Wilkerson, 39, of Edison, Georgia.
Three of the four were also charged with obstruction of justice, Justice Department officials said.
Authorities said Daniel Kilgore, 44, of Blakely pleaded guilty to similar counts this week.
Food recalls are common, but criminal indictments around them are not.
Charges in this case appear to have been prompted, in part, by the defendants' alleged knowledge of the salmonella-tainted product shipment and an alleged cover-up.
Those charged could face stiff jail terms, if convicted.