The four men in federal prison for their crimes involving the Peanut Corporation of America and a deadly Salmonella outbreak won’t have to pay any restitution to their victims, federal Judge W. Louis Sands has ruled. In what is likely to be his last word in the 3-year-old criminal case, Sands decided to make an exception to mandatory restitution requirements. He decided it would be too complicated and take too long to figure out precise amounts to compensate either the Salmonella poisoning victims or the businesses that suffered losses because of PCA. judgesands_406x250“The Court is not herein ‘punting’ the issue of restitution to another venue or into oblivion because it is too daunted by the complexity of determining the losses caused by each defendant to each identifiable victim,” Sands wrote in his 15-page order dated April 6. “Nor is the court simply allowing the government to forfeit restitution on behalf of the victims. Rather, the court will not prolong these proceedings, at the expense of the American people and the defendants, to re-visit PCA bankruptcy proceedings or conduct mini-trials as to eligibility of the as-yet unidentified victims and the total losses of the identified victims.” Sands says the legislative history of the Mandatory Victims’ Restitution Act (MVRA) anticipated instances where civil proceedings would be better forums to resolve complex issues. His ruling means Stewart Parnell, Michael Parnell, Samuel Lightsey and Daniel Kilgore will all escape orders to pay any restitution. All four are currently serving federal prison terms for the fraud and conspiracy convictions in the PCA criminal case. Only Mary Wilkerson was previously exempt from paying restitution. Her obstruction of justice conviction was for actions during the investigation, not during the ongoing criminal enterprise for which the others were convicted. Wilkerson is serving five years in a federal women’s prison in Florida. Sands restitution ruling clears the way for the Parnell brothers and Wilkerson to appeal their convictions and sentences to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Stewart Parnell, sentenced to 28 years, is at a federal facility in South Carolina and his brother Michael Parnell, sentenced to 20 years, is serving his time in Michigan. Lightsey and Kilgore, both PCA managers at a peanut plant in Blakely, GA, when product from the company poisoned thousands with Salmonella, reached plea agreements with the government. Both got lighter sentences, six years for Kilgore and three years for Lightsey. The restitution issue was complicated by the fact that the most seriously injured victims shared in a $12 million liability insurance coverage that was maintained by PCA and distributed by a federal Bankruptcy Court when the company went under. In addition, some businesses that suffered losses were compensated via business or recall insurance. Judge Sands said to go deeper into the restitution issues would “unduly complicate or prolong the sentencing process to a degree that the need to provide restitution to any victim is outweighed by the burden on the sentencing process.” The restitution hearing was held Jan. 26. Neither Stewart or Michael Parnell attended because they did not want to delay their transfers to federal prisons from the county jail where they were held for several months after sentencing on Sept. 21, 2015. Neither the federal government nor attorneys for the four defendants filed any supplemental briefs or evidence during the allowed 14-day period after the restitution hearing. The 11th Circuit had stayed the sentencing appeals to give the District Court time to conclude the restitution issue. The 2008-09 Salmonella outbreak associated with PCA products was blamed for nine deaths and caused the recall of about 3,900 products containing peanut butter or paste produced by the now defunct company. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)