ALBANY, GA—Stewart Parnell’s mother decided to use a courtroom break on Thursday to verbally confront a female FBI agent coming out of a stall in the women’s bathroom on the third floor of the C.B. King Courthouse in Albany, GA. The approach was not welcomed.
The agent, who appeared to be unarmed, was present to give testimony on the economic losses experienced by food industry recalls, lost sales, and a variety of other reasons in the aftermath of the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) meltdown.
“How do you live with yourself?” Mrs. Parnell reportedly asked the agent during the brief confrontation. It was a short exchange as the agent warned the older woman to “back down” as she left the bathroom without stopping to wash her hands.
Mrs. Parnell was also said to have referred to the agent brandishing a weapon before a 10-year-old child, but it was not clear to what incident she was referring.
The FBI agent, who was returning to the witness stand, reported the incident to Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan Dasher, who, in turn, reported it to Judge W. Louis Sands as soon as court resumed.
Dasher said it was the second time Parnell’s mother had verbally attacked someone associated with the prosecution. He said the first time was immediately after the trial, and her target then was a young paralegal or intern.
Despite objections from defense attorney Thomas Ledford, who argued that something occurring outside the courtroom “has nothing whatsoever to do with these proceedings,” Sands said his reach extended to the outside walls of the courthouse itself, and that he expected courtesy and respect to be the rule for all concerned.
Sands allowed Mrs. Parnell to remain in the courtroom for the remainder of the day, but court bailiffs appeared to pay her closer attention.
During her testimony, the FBI agent seemed able to document about $144 million in economic losses directly to the PCA recall and shutdown in early 2009. The government subpoenaed loss records from downstream companies that used PCA peanut paste and peanut butter.
Kellogg’s and ConAgra both experienced losses in the mid-$40-million range.
The FBI analysis did not appear to include losses to planters from the drop in peanut prices in the wake of the Salmonella outbreak and recall. In addition, it was not clear that all of the companies forced to recall products with peanut butter or peanut paste were included.
This was the second and final day of testimony in the restitution phase of the criminal cases against Parnell, his peanut broker brother Michael, and PCA’s former quality control manager, Mary Wilkerson.
In response to questioning, it was revealed that Stewart Parnell owned half of PCA and one of three director slots. Michael Parnell had no ownership in either PCA or the two other related corporate entities that existed to oversee operations in Texas and Virginia.
Attorneys were given 14 days from this coming Monday to brief restitution and other pre-trial issues, and they will then have seven days to respond to those briefs. After that, the Parnell brothers and Wilkerson will be scheduled for sentencing. The earliest sentencing could occur is the last week of this month.
Two others likely to be sentenced around the same time are PCA’s former Blakely, GA, plant manager Samuel Lightsey and former plant operations manager Daniel Kilgore. They pleaded guilty before the others went to trial after reaching plea bargains with the government.
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