The trial court judge who only recently sent four defendants to federal prison for a total of 57 years is not quite through with them. U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands this week let four of the five who were convicted in the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) criminal case know, through their attorneys, that he still has to impose restitution. Only Mary Wilkerson, who was convicted of obstruction of justice during the investigation, is not subject to restitution. That’s because her criminal conduct occurred during the investigation, not when the criminal enterprise was active. She was the quality control manager at PCA’s peanut processing plant in Blakely, GA. Between Sept. 21 and Oct. 1, Sands sentenced four men for federal felonies involving fraud and conspiracy charges for which they were convicted, either by a jury or by pleading guilty. Former PCA President and CEO Stewart Parnell was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison, his peanut broker brother, Michael Parnell, was sentenced to 20 years, and Daniel Kilgore and Samuel Lightsey were sentenced to six and three years, respectively. Kilgore and Lightsey were PCA managers assigned to run the Blakely plant. That facility was found to be responsible for a 2008-09 Salmonella outbreak that sickened thousands of people and killed nine of them. Sands outlined a schedule for wrapping up restitution during sentencing. He gave the U.S. Office of Probation until Nov. 20 to come up with a report with “total restitution amounts for all known victims, including corporate and third-party (such as insurance providers) victims to each relevant Defendant … .” When the probation office missed the first deadline, Sands extended it to yesterday, but it’s not clear yet whether he has what he wants from the unit of the federal court system also responsible for doing pre-sentencing reports and making other recommendations to judges. Sands has scheduled a restitution hearing for 10 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 7, for Michael Parnell, a time and date which attorneys for Stewart Parnell have indicated would also work for their client. Attorneys for Kilgore and Lightsey have yet to weigh in on the issue. According to a recent order from Sands, a defendant may waive his right to a hearing and contest any proposed restitution determinations. Prior to sentencing, Sands heard testimony from both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and an attorney who worked for the bankruptcy court about the individuals and businesses that were victims of PCA’s criminal activities. Because PCA’s peanut butter and peanut paste was found to be contaminated with Salmonella, its use as an ingredient brought on more than 3,900 separate and costly recalls by multiple food manufacturers. Representatives of families most damaged by the PCA Salmonella outbreak have also asked Sands to consider imposing $500,000 in restitution for groups that represent victims of foodborne illnesses and organizations that advocate for safer food. Stewart and Michael Parnell, along with Wilkerson, have appealed both their convictions and their sentences to the Eleventh District U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Attorneys for the Parnell brothers want to make oral arguments to the appellate judges on allowing their clients to be free on bond during the appeals. Wilkerson made a similar request, which was denied, before she was ordered to report to a federal women’s prison in Florida.
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