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Plea agreement for former plant operations manager at PCA

By Joe Whitworth+

12-May-2014
Last updated on 12-May-2014 at 13:37 GMT

The traceback investigation led back to peanuts
The traceback investigation led back to peanuts

The former plant operations manager at the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) has pleaded guilty to seven counts related to an Salmonella outbreak five years ago which killed nine people.

Samuel Lightsey entered guilty pleas last week after reaching an agreement to provide statements to law enforcement officers on the involvement of other parties.

Charges include conspiracy to commit “mail” and wire fraud, conspiracy to introduce adulterated and misbranded food into interstate commerce, with the intend to defraud and obstruction of justice.

They carry a maximum imprisonment of 76 years and $1.75m, according to court documents.

However, the plea agreement notes it is recommended that Lightsey is sentenced to no more than six years. He will be sentenced at a later date.

Salmonella outbreak

PCA was linked to a nationwide Salmonella outbreak in 2008 and 2009 in which more than 700 people became ill and nine died in more than 40 states after one of the biggest recalls in history.

The company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2009.

The investigation began in 2009, after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) traced a national outbreak of Salmonella to a PCA plant in Blakely producing peanuts and peanut products.

Indictment findings

Four former officials at PCA were indicted on charges relating to the contamination of peanuts with Salmonella in 2009, according to the US Justice Department in February 2013.

The 76-count indictment named owner Stewart Parnell and his brother Michael, Samuel Lightsey, plant operations manager and Mary Wilkerson held positions including plant quality assurance manager.

Allegations include mail and wire fraud, introduction of adulterated and misbranded food into interstate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead, and conspiracy.

The charging documents allege the firm participated in schemes by which they defrauded customers about the quality and purity of their peanut products and specifically misled customers about the existence of foodborne pathogens, most notably salmonella, in the peanut products PCA sold to them, said the Department of Justice.

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