The most positive sign yet that the Peanut Corporation of America’s (PCA’s) Stewart Parnell may yet face federal prosecution has been spotted in Virginia.
Thomas J. Bondurant, Jr., who for 30 years was a federal prosecutor in western Virginia, has appeared on local television speaking for his new client–Stewart Parnell of Lynchburg.
“We’ve been in the case a couple of months investigating it, and it just seems a lot of things in the public media are just simply wrong,” said Bondurant, who now practices federal criminal defense attorney for the Virginia law firm of Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore.
“Of course, Mr. Parnell hasn’t had his day yet, to say his side of the story, but I think when it all comes out, it’s not as it appears in the media now,” he added.
Bondurant made the statement on camera, but declined to take any questions. He made the statement as part of the local ABC affiliate’s three part series marking the first anniversary of the nationwide Salmonella outbreak linked to peanut butter and peanut paste from Parnell’s company.
The ABC 13 reports focused on the outbreak victims from Virginia and several of the nine deaths that resulted throughout the country. Off camera, members of the Parnell family contacted the station to say they had lost nearly everything in the past year.
Bondurant’s arrival on the scene is the most tangible sign that a federal prosecution is in the offing since U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told a U.S. Senate Committee that FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations was still pursuing the matter.
The Office of Criminal Investigations has since directed inquiries to the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, which will neither confirm nor deny there is a federal criminal investigation underway.
The Middle District presumably will have jurisdiction because the case mostly involves events that occurred at PCA’s peanut processing plant in Blakely, GA.
President Obama nominated Michael Moore, a former state senator, as U.S. Attorney for the Middle District last Sept. 17, but the U.S. Senate has not yet confirmed the nomination. Whether that holdup has anything to do with any possible federal prosecution of Parnell is not known.
While it was not exactly his day, Parnell did have an opportunity to tell his side of the story to the powerful House Commerce and Energy Committee on Feb. 11, 2009. At that time the only words he would say were, “On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully decline to answer your questions based on the protection afforded me under the United States Constitution.”
It was after Parnell “took the Fifth,” that the committee went public with documents that on the surface appear to show PCA knowingly shipped peanut products it knew to be contaminated.
Seattle food safety attorney William Marler says federal law allows for criminal sanctions to be imposed against food manufacturers who can prevent harmful food from being distributed and fails to do so.
Under Section III of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, a food manufacturer is guilty of a felony if the manufacturer knowingly adulterates a food product with the intent to defraud its customers, according to Marler.
A food manufacturer commits a misdemeanor if the manufacturer is aware that a product is contaminated or “adulterated,” and has the power to stop the product from being distributed, but does not do so, he added.
A year ago, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta was counting that last cases in an outbreak that began in late September 2008. In the end, CDC said Salmonella from PCA products sickened 714 people in 46 states and Canada.
And the peanut butter and peanut paste produced by PCA processing plants in Blakely and Plainview, TX were used as ingredients in about 3,900 separate products that had to be recalled from the market. Those contaminated products cost the industry more than $1 billion, experts say.
Before Bondurant’s TV appearance, Parnell has really not been heard from since he left the congressional hearing room. It’s believed that he continues to reside at his Lynchburg residence, which also served as headquarters for PCA.