Mary Wilkerson, quality control officer for the now-defunct Peanut Corporation of America, has been released from a federal prison in Tallahassee, FL, to a half-way house in Atlanta.
Wilkerson, 46, has also had her full release date moved up by one month to Feb. 4, 2020. Supervision of her release process has moved to the U.S. Probation Office in Albany. GA.
Until then, she is in “pre-release” status with Residential Reentry Management (RRM), which manages re-entry centers housing 8,060 inmates near their release dates. Dismiss Charities Inc. operates the half-way house.
Wilkerson’s conviction came during a 2014 jury trial where she was found guilty on one count of obstruction of justice and acquitted on another. She was sentenced a year later to five years in prison.
Wilkerson, who was represented by a court-appointed local attorney, appealed her conviction and sentence to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta without success. Her conviction stemmed from her response to a question from FDA about PCA’s testing for Salmonella in its peanut butter and peanut paste.
Wilkerson’s was a “process crime.” The government acknowledged she was not part of the conspiracy that led to Salmonella poisonings, nor was she responsible for any restitution to any victims.
Wilkerson is the first PCA defendant who went to trial to finish with federal prison. Brothers Stewart Parnell and Michael Parnell were sentenced to 28 and 20 years, respectively, after being convicted on multi-felonies.
Samuel Lightsey, who managed the PCA plant at Blakely, GA, negotiated a deal with the government and served less than three years. Lightsey was a star witness at the trial for the Parnells and Wilkerson.
Next to be released will be Daniel Kilgore, PCA operations manager at Blakely, GA, who also pleaded guilty in a deal with government prosecutors. Kilgore, 50, is serving six years at the low-security federal prison at Oakdale, LA. His scheduled release date is Jan. 30, 2021.
It was 11 years ago that PCA’s lax Salmonella testing led to a 46-state outbreak that sickened thousands and killed at least nine. The fallout also included the recall of 3,900 peanut products by almost 400 companies.
Indictments came four years later after an investigation led by the FBI resulted in the indictment of owner Steward Parnell and his peanut broker brother Michael Parnell and the others.
The PCA criminal case, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court, took more than five years.
For the Parnell brothers, getting out of jail is still far in the distance. Stewart Parnell, 65, has a release date of Feb. 9, 2040, from the federal prison at Estill, SC.
Michael Parnell, who recently moved to the minimum security lockup at Fort Dix, NJ, has a release date of Feb. 17, 2033. He was origianlly incarerated at a federal prison near Detroit.
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