UPDATE: U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Q. Langstaff late Friday denied Stewart Parnell’s request to have his U.S. Passport returned, Without a hearing, the Judge said the Court is sympathetic with Parnell’s desire to pursue employment opportunities involving foreign travel, but said conditions of his release are already the “least restrictive necessary” to ensure his future court appearances.
Before Langstaff’s ruling, government attorneys said the 58-year old Stewart Parnell is more of flight risk now than before he was indicted on multiple federal counts that carry a maximum possible sentence of 754 years in prison and $17 million in fines. The lawyers for the government strongly opposed the former chief executive of Peanut Corporation of America’s April 9 request for the return of his U.S. Passport “for business purposes.”
The government attorneys — Patrick H. Hearn and Mary M. Englehart from the Consumer Protection Branch of the Department of Justice, and Assistant U.S. Attorney K. Alan Dasher of the Middle District of Georgia — showed that Parnell is no novice at world travel.
The government provided the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia with copies of Parnell’s travel records from the Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS), a Customs and Border Protection system for recording who leaves and returns to the U.S.
Before he was charged, the government knew Parnell was traveling abroad extensively, including trips to Nicaragua, Senegal and France.
U.S. attorneys agreed not to arrest and detain Parnell because he agreed to give up his passport. That allowed him to surrender to the U.S. Marshal’s Office on the day of his initial court appearance.
Parnell is free until the scheduled October jury trial on an unsecured $100,000 bail, but has asked the Court to order his passport returned on grounds that he needs it for business travel.
Parnell’s Atlanta attorney, Kenneth B. Hodges III, said his client needs his passport “returned to him so that he may secure employment with a company that requires him to travel overseas for business — not so that he may flee from the United States.”
Hodges argues the fact that Parnell traveled extensively outside the U.S. before being indicted shows he is not a flight risk. Instead, the attorney says, his client “chose instead to return to Virginia where he, his wife, children and grandchildren live.”
The government sees it differently. Until the indictment was unsealed, they argue, Parnell probably thought he would be charged with misdemeanor violations of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. “Historically, criminal prosecutions for shipment of adulterated food were almost always charged as misdemeanors,” the U.S. attorneys say. “The defendant Stewart Parnell did not anticipate a 76-count felony indictment.”
Further, Parnell did not know prior to giving up his passport that former PCA insider Daniel Kilgore had plead guilty and now stands ready to testify against the four executives charged in the indictment.
“These facts are what make the defendant Stewart Parnell’s request for his passport alarming,” the government says. “One can draw the logical conclusion that defendant Stewart Parnell intends to flee prosecution in this case by leaving the United States due to the strength of case and life sentence he is confronting.”
Since about the time of the nationwide Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak linked to PCA products in late 2008, those government travel records show Parnell traveled to Argentina, South Africa and Zimbabwe. More recently, he’s been to France, Senegal, and made multiple trips to Nicaragua.
The government says once someone skips the country prior to trial, it can take a decade or more to locate and return to the U.S. to face prosecution. They say Parnell has been in some foreign counties long enough to establish ties. Some countries, like Nicaragua, also have a history of almost never deporting someone to the U.S. for prosecution.
“In light of the defendant Stewart Parnell’s unrestricted ability to work in the United States there is no need for a passport other than to flee prosecution,” says the government motion opposing the request.
Indicted with Stewart on Feb. 22 were his brother Michael Parnell and two former executives at the Blakely, GA peanut processing plant, Samuel Lightley and Mary Wilkerson. Michael Parnell was PCA’s peanut broker.
Nine people were killed and at least 700 people sickened in the outbreak. In prior civil litigation, more than 100 victims and their families were awarded $12 million in damages.© Food Safety News