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Appellate mandate ends biggest food safety criminal case in history

It’s over.

After 1,952 days in federal trial and appellate courts, the case of the United States versus Stewart and Michael Parnell et al is no longer active.

It became history Wednesday when David J. Smith, Clerk of Court for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, entered as the mandate or final word of the appellate court the 21-page ruling a three-judge panel issued last Jan. 23.

And if that were not final enough, Smith also returned seven boxes of exhibits to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.

Those actions end the criminal prosecution of brothers Stewart and Michael Parnell and their associate Mary Wilkerson, which began in the District Court five years, four months and six days ago on Feb. 15, 2013.

On that date, after a four-year federal investigation, federal prosecutors brought a 76-count felony indictment against five former executives and associates of the now-defunct Peanut Corporation of America (PCA). The peanut processing company was blamed for the 2008-09 multi-state Salmonella outbreak that sickened thousands and resulted in at least nine deaths.

Charges involved business practices, including fraud and conspiracy, wire fraud and obstruction of justice, along with allowing misbranded and adulterated food to reach the market. No charges were brought directly involving illnesses or deaths.

A jury trial convicted the Parnells and Wilkerson. Two other PCA testified for the government at trial in exchange for reduced sentences.

As reported on June 13, the Eleventh Circuit denied a petition for rehearing either by another three-judge panel or, En Banc, by the entire court. That set up Wednesday’s action to enter the January opinion as the “mandate” so the Eleventh Circuit could be done with it.

No more severe convictions or sentences have ever been handed down for food safety-related crimes. Stewart Parnell, 64, has 22 years left to serve on his sentence. He was PCA’s chief executive. His peanut broker brother, Michael Parnell, 59, has 15 more years to serve.

Wilkerson has two years left on a 5-year sentence for her conviction for obstruction of justice.

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