Somewhat competitive conspiracy theories are working their way into the final days of the Peanut Corporation of America criminal case nearing final sentencing on Sept. 21. Mary Wilkerson’s public defender is spinning the conspiracies in support of new motions to dismiss the guilty jury verdict his client received in September 2014 for obstruction of justice. (Wilkerson had worked in PCA’s front office in Blakely, GA, and ended up as the company’s manager of quality assurance.) In the new motions, defense attorney Thomas C. Ledford has asked for dismissal of the indictment against his client or, in the alternative, for a new trial “due to prosecutorial misconduct.”

Thomas Ledford
Thomas C. Ledford
U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands has denied similar motions to dismiss before, during, and after the federal jury trial in Albany, GA, that convicted Wilkerson, along with Stewart and Michael Parnell. This time, the attorney the court appointed to defend Wilkerson has filled many of his 170 pages of arguments with theories of conspiracy involving various actors in the ongoing criminal drama. We’ll name a few of those here and identify who is said to be involved. The Janet Gray Conspiracy Named for the FDA investigator whom Mary Wilkerson was accused of misleading, this conspiracy apparently involves federal government prosecutors, FDA investigators, and FBI agents who were all involved on the team that prosecuted Wilkerson. Ledford claims that one of Gray’s handwritten diary pages is the smoking gun that might have acquitted his client were it not “hidden in 6 to 8 million pages of documents.” He says that meant that Gray’s testimony “was not refuted at Trial, only questioned.” The Media Conspiracy Ledford says the media in general, and Food Safety News in particular (especially publisher Bill Marler), “vilified and convicted all Defendants long before the Trial with information and details of the investigation, reports provided by Government investigators and prosecution even past Trial.” Marler was, according to Ledford, the first attorney to file a civil lawsuit against PCA. Ledford says that Marler had information that only the government could have provided to the plaintiff’s attorney. Ledford also alleges that the news media, including Food Safety News, reported from some court documents that were sealed and therefore the source of the “leaks” should be investigated. The ConAgra Conspiracy
The former PCA plant in Blakely, GA.
The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, in collusion with FDA, did not announce a plea agreement with ConAgra until May 20, 2015, months after the PCA trial, Ledford says. ConAgra was the source of a Salmonella outbreak that occurred almost two years before the one involving PCA, and Gray investigated both plants involved in those outbreaks. “Unlike PCA, no individual was charged or indicted and the Government had no intentions of doing so,” Ledford says. (ConAgra’s plea agreement is pending in Judge Sands’ court until victim notification is completed.) Wilkerson, who was acquitted on one of two charges of obstructing justice, has much at stake come sentencing. An obstruction of justice conviction carries with it a maximum term of 20 years in prison. The court has reportedly received a pre-sentence investigative report recommendation for 8 to 10 years. The fact that Ledford is now charging prosecutorial misconduct is new, but his objections to the voluminous number of documents in the case are not. He claims that his client was on the receiving end of a “data dump” of 6 to 8 million documents without any way to sort through it all. Ledford is now arguing that is an “egregious” violation of the federal rules for the government to make its evidence available to the defense. His first motion on the issue was filed on July 11, 2013, five months after his client was indicted. In the end, the government only introduced about 1,000 exhibits at trial. What remains unclear is whether the diary page would have been enough to cause the jury to find Wilkerson not guilty on the second count of obstruction. Ledford is charging that federal discovery rules were violated and resulted in “burying exculpatory evidence.”

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)