Stewart Parnell may not have understood what Theodore Roosevelt meant when he said that every man “owes some of his time, money and efforts to the upbuilding of the profession to which he belongs.”
Instead, when asked by his daughter, Grey Adams, the bookkeeper for Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), on June 30, 2008, about the company’s membership dues to an industry association, the former company CEO’s emailed reply was, “Lie about the sales if it saves us money.”
Then, as now, membership dues to the 75-year-old Peanut and Tree Nut Processors Association were based on a company’s annual sales, Jeannie Shaughnessy, the Alexandria, VA-based association’s executive director, told Food Safety News.
When told about Parnell’s emailed instructions to his daughter to lie about PCA’s sales levels to the association in 2008, Shaughnessy said, “Duly noted.” She did not work for the association in 2008, and all the staff has turned over since then.
Parnell had kept the email to his daughter sealed for more than a year as “impermissible character evidence.” Government attorneys finally persuaded U.S. District Judge W. Louis Sands to permit its release, arguing that the email was “highly probative of his intent and motive. Defendant Stewart Parnell’s intent to defraud or mislead is a key element of the crimes with which he is charged,” prosecutors write in a response to a defense pre-trial motion.
“He is charged with defrauding his customers,” they continue. “The email instructs the company bookkeeper to defraud an industry trade organization. It is illustrative of Defendant Stewart Parnell’s motive to cut company costs, even if doing so requires making false statements.”
“In many instances he cut PCA’s expenses by failing to submit products for testing, but in so doing, he lied to his customers by sending them falsified certificates of analysis,” the government’s response asserts. “The email is also relevant in that it shows the Defendant Stewart Parnell was directly involved in the day-to-day operations of the business and was keenly aware of the details of his business, a fact that he has disputed by his claim that his ADHD made it impossible for him to be aware of his company’s problems.”
Separate from his unsuccessful motion to keep his email about the peanut association dues sealed, Parnell wants the court to admit Virginia neuropsychologist Dr. Joseph C. Conley, Jr., as an expert witness at trial to testify that the former PCA chief executive suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.
ADHD is a childhood condition that sometimes extends into the adult years. The government opposes allowing the ADHD defense, and Conley’s status was subject to a one-day pretrial hearing in March, but Sands has not yet handed down a decision on whether to permit the neuropsychologist to testify as an expert witness.
Motions and response motions among the lawyers in the case scheduled for trial July 14 have been flying back and forth this week to meet pre-trial deadlines Sands has imposed.
Parnell, his brother Michael, and PCA’s former quality control manager Mary Wilkerson will be tried together in the case that originally involved a 76-count federal indictment for fraud, conspiracy and felony violations involving misbranding and adulteration of food shipped in interstate commerce.
The defendants have been free on bond to assist in their own defenses since they were arraigned February 20.
PCA’s peanut processing plant in Blakely, GA, was connected with the 2008-09 Salmonella outbreak that sickened 700 people and killed nine.© Food Safety News