ALBANY, Ga. (AP) – Four people charged in connection with a 2009 salmonella outbreak in peanuts that killed nine and sickened hundreds pleaded not guilty Thursday to all charges.
Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell, his food broker brother Michael Parnell, Georgia plant manager Samuel Lightsey and Georgia plant quality assurance manager Mary Wilkerson entered their pleas in a south Georgia federal court.
A 76-count indictment charges the four defendants in a scheme to manufacture and ship salmonella-tainted peanuts.
The outbreak caused one of the largest recalls in history and prompted the government to file criminal charges, rarely pursued in food poisoning cases because intentional contamination is difficult to prove.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Langstaff set bond at $100,000 each for the Parnell brothers, $50,000 for Lightsey and $25,000 for Wilkerson. The defendants and their family members, who attended Thursday’s hearing, did not speak to reporters.
The case next goes to U.S. District Judge W. Louis Sands. A trial date has yet to be set.
Among the various charges are conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and the introduction of adulterated and misbranded food into interstate commerce with the intent to defraud or mislead.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Dasher told the court that Stewart Parnell faces a maximum 754 years in prison and $17 million in fines if convicted. His brother Michael faces a maximum 437 years and $10 million.
The indictment said the company misled consumers about salmonella being in its product, even when laboratory tests indicated its presence. It said certificates accompanying some of the peanut shipments were altered to say the peanuts were safe when tests said otherwise.
The indictment also says Stewart Parnell, Lightsey and Wilkerson gave false or misleading statements to federal food investigators who visited the plant as the outbreak was unfolding, resulting in obstruction of justice charges.
The company later went bankrupt.
Investigations are pending into two other large outbreaks in recent years _ an outbreak of salmonella in eggs in 2010 and an outbreak of listeria in cantaloupe in 2011 that was linked to more than 30 deaths.
Rosica reported from Albany and Brumback from Atlanta.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- Affordable small home makeovers for Mother's Day
- Locals helping locals: 6 success stories you need to know about
- Sunscreen facts that could save your life
- 6 energy saving hacks for your home
- 5 tips for choosing a company to end your timeshare
- Overlooked water tips to save you money
- 5 of the most adored gentlemen in professional sports today
- The real danger of sitting at your desk
- Most surprising NBA playoff performances of the last 40 years
- 11 classic baseball movies you must see again
- Finally getting rid of fat: 3 methods that actually work
- 4 reasons cancer survivors should focus on food
- 5 spring cleaning spots everyone forgets
- 5 reasons to look forward to watching the D-backs this season
- Common virus attributed to spike in head and neck cancers
- 5 signs it’s time to end your timeshare ownership
- 3 most overlooked ways to keep your home healthy
- 6 ways the air in your home could be making you sick
- CrossFit dangers: 5 common injuries and how to deal with them
- Today's radiation treatments offer better success, fewer side effects
- Tips to make watching TV on the patio even better
- What really happens when you donate to a community college?
- Sun and skin cancer: Separating fact from fiction
- 5 critical lifestyle changes for a healthy colon
- What you need to know about Alzheimer's disease in Arizona
- Spring clean your windows like a pro with these 8 tips
- 7 films that should have won best-picture Oscars
- New plumbing technology saves money and improves your home
- Survey shows Arizona CFOs optimistic about 2016
- How chronic pain can affect your love life