Stewart Parnell, the former chief executive officer of the now defunct Peanut Corporation of American who is facing trial on a long list of criminal charges related to an outbreak of foodborne illness five years ago, wants his passport back. Parnell, 58, of Lynchburg, VA gave up his U.S. passport on Feb. 28 as a condition of the bond he posted in order to stay out of jail while awaiting trial. He surrendered the passport to the U.S. Probation Office. But now, Parnell wants it back, saying he needs it for international business travel. “The employment opportunity is contingent upon Defendant Parnell’s ability to travel overseas on his employer’s behalf,” his Atlanta attorney Kenneth B. Hodges, III says in a motion to the court requesting return of the passport. The motion says Parnell promises that his international travel will be for business purposes only, and says he is not a flight risk. No mention is made of who Parnell will be working for or where his business travel might take him. U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Q. Langstaff ordered government attorneys to respond by April 24 to Stewart’s request to have his passport back. Parnell’s attorneys will then have until April 29 to respond to the government. Another attorney, Ellenor Stone, has filed a notice of appearance with the federal court in Athens, GA saying she will be Parnell’s “counsel of record.” Stone is a lawyer at Rufuse Hill & Hodges, the same firm Kenneth B. Hodges III is with. Parnell is one of four defendants charged with a total of 76 counts of fraud and conspiracy, wire and mail fraud, along with shipping adulterated and misbranded food into interstate commence. The four former PCA executives are charged in a case stemming from the 2008-09 nationwide outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium that killed nine and sickened at least 700 people. Because PCA peanut butter and peanut paste was purchased by other companies and used in their products, the outbreak triggered one of the most expansive recalls in history, involving almost 4,000 separate products. Parnell wanting his passport back is only the latest in a string of pre-trial issues that is likely to delay the main event. On April 22 in Athens, U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands will have to first decide if Hodges can continue on the case. Government attorneys say Hodges is conflicted because he provided legal counsel to Grey Adams, Parnell’s daughter. She and her husband, Stewart Adams, were apparently never targets of the federal grand jury investigation, but were interviewed by federal agents. Hodges sat in on those interviews. All four defendants have entered not guilty pleas and waived the federal speedy trial because of the complexity of the case. Like Parnell, they are all free on bond while they await trial. Judge Sands, appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton, has tasked the attorneys with proposing how a long list of pre-trial issues should be handled. The judge at the April 22nd hearing will also decide many of those issues. Where the defense and government attorneys cannot agree amongst themselves, the court will entertain their individual suggestions. Items on the to-do list for the hearing are:

  • Preliminary motions, such as challenges to the indictment and the joinder of parties
  • Discovery and required productions and disclosures
  • Motions related to discovery or for additional discovery (motions for depositions, Brody materials, etc.)
  • Motions to suppress evidence
  • Required noticed and requests for notices
  • Proposed jury charges and voir dire questions
  • Motions in limine
  • Proposed dates for trial

The grand jury indictment of the four defendants was unsealed on Feb. 21. The others criminally charged are Parnell’s brother Michael Parnell, former operator of the Blakely, GA peanut processing, Samuel Lightley and former quality assurance manger Mary Wilkerson. In prior civil litigation, more than 100 sickened in the outbreak were awarded $12 million in damages.