Randy Napier and Jeff Almer, whose mothers were among nine fatalities of the Salmonella outbreak linked to Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) products, have written to U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands to suggest that $500,000 in restitution be imposed on the PCA criminal defendants and the proceeds split among groups that represent victims of foodborne illness and organizations that advocate for safer food. That’s according to representatives of families of the victims of the 2008-09 Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak linked to PCA products. “This request is designed to help further the food safety cause,” Napier and Almer wrote the judge. “We have lost our loved ones and have worked hard to help prevent this from happening to others. Our request is not a selfish request, we only ask that you assign any monies, divided equally among the listed organizations, to aid families who have suffered or are suffering from food borne illnesses.” The two groups that help victims of foodborne illnesses are STOP Foodborne Illness and the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention. In addition, Napier and Almer have suggested the Consumer Federation of America, National Consumers League, and Food & Water Watch as the three groups advocating for safer food. “Medical expenses alone from contaminated food are hurting families and victim’s health: sometimes for life, because companies like PCA (Peanut Corporation of America) have failed to protect the public,” they added. “Those of us who have lost loved ones will be there to speak and you would help give us closure if we knew the organizations that helped us through a very rough time were funded to help others.” Restitution is one of two issues that Sands will likely hear arguments on from both government and defense attorneys prior to sentencing. There is also likely to be vigorous discussion of “sentencing factors,” including to what extent the offense conduct falls outside of the “heartland” of cases described in the guidelines. In one of his final orders before Monday’s sentencing, Sands stated that while restitution may not be mandatory in this case, it might be necessary. After those arguments, victims of the outbreak caused by PCA’s knowingly shipping peanut product contaminated with Salmonella will probably be invited to make their statements to the court. All five defendants, including the two former PCA managers who opted to become government witnesses, will be present to hear the victim statements. Sometime after that, the three defendants found guilty by a jury last year at this time will be sentenced. Here are the possible sentences: Stewart Parnell, former chief executive officer of the now-defunct PCA, has an offense level of 47 under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, Sands wrote. Parnell’s maximum sentence under the guideline range is 9,636 months, or 803 years of imprisonment. A life term in prison was recommended earlier by the U.S. Probation Office. A jury last year found Parnell guilty of 68 federal felonies. Michael Parnell, Stewart Parnell’s peanut broker brother, has an offense level of 38, and the sentencing guideline range is 235 to 293 months, or 19.5 to 24.4 years of imprisonment. The jury found him guilty of 30 federal felonies. Mary Wilkerson, who went from being a receptionist to manager of quality control at PCA’s Blakely, GA, peanut processing plant, has an offense level is 30. Her statutory maximum term of imprisonment is 5 years, or 60 months. The jury found her guilty on one of two counts of obstruction of justice, also a felony. After a four-year investigation led by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the defendants were named in a 76-count felony indictment in February 2013 and went to a jury trial in July 2014. The charges included fraud and conspiracy, along with selling misbranded and adulterated food into interstate commerce. The charges stemmed from the 2008-09 Salmonella outbreak which sickened thousands of people and likely contributed to the deaths of nine of them. Peanut butter and peanut paste produced by PCA was found to be the source of the outbreak.
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