Now on senior status, Federal Judge W. Louis Sands presided over the 2014 criminal trial of Peanut Corporation of American executives. And in new rulings, Sands has said “No” and “No” again to defendant Michael Parnell, who was seeking both “compassionate release” and the dismissal of his conviction on constitutional grounds.
It means defeat for the 64-year-old Parnell, who was a peanut broker for PCA when its Blakely, GA, peanut processing plant was found to be the source of a deadly multistate Salmonella outbreak. He is currently an inmate at the Fort Dix, NJ, federal prison, serving a 20-year sentence.
In a motion originally filed in February 2021, Parnell requested “the Court to reduce and suspend the remaining term of incarceration so that he could be placed on home electronic surveillance at his residence in Virginia for a time deemed reasonable by the Court and then placed on supervised probation for the duration.”
Parnell was indicted on Feb. 15, 2013, for alleged conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, conspiracy to introduce adulterated food into interstate commerce, conspiracy to introduce misbranded food into interstate commerce, the introduction of adulterated and misbranded food into interstate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead, interstate shipments fraud, wire fraud, and obstruction of justice.
In September 2014, after a seven-week jury trial, Parnell was found guilty of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, conspiracy to introduce adulterated and misbranded food into interstate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead, along with multiple counts of introduction of misbranded food into interstate commerce, multiple counts of mail fraud, and multiple counts of wire fraud.
He was acquitted of all counts that charged him with the introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce. He was sentenced to 240 months imprisonment to be followed by three years of supervised release. The sentence was upheld on appeal by the 11th Federal Circuit Court in Atlanta.
In filing for compassionate release in 2021, Parnell said there were “extraordinary and compelling reasons” including the fact that he is 61 years old, is overweight, and is suffering from chronic debilitating illnesses, including Type-2 diabetes and hypertension.
He further argued that “FCI Fort Dix, the federal correctional institution where Defendant is currently housed, has contracted COVID-19, and the safety plan provided by the Bureau of Prisons is ‘virtually impossible’ to adhere to because of narrow hallways that make social distancing impracticable and the facility’s poor air circulation.”
Sands obtained Parnell’s medical records through the U.S. Probation Office and upon review found “no extraordinary or compelling reason that warrants compassionate release.” He said Parnell “asserts medical reasons, such as being clinically overweight, having Type II diabetes and hypertension. But under the governing policy statement, the only medical conditions that rise to the level of extraordinary and compelling reasons are those that (i) are terminal illnesses or (ii) “substantially diminish the ability of the defendant to provide self-care” within the prison.
Sands said he “agrees with the Government that merely pointing to the existence of his medical conditions is insufficient” because Parnell “did not demonstrate how his conditions are not being adequately treated or controlled or that his ability to provide self-care in prison is substantially diminished as a result of his medical conditions.”
The U.S. Probation Office said Parnell gets “prescribed various medications for his hypertension, diabetes, and liver disease.” He has also received Covid 19 vaccines.
“After a careful and complete review of the record, motion, and response, the applicable factors under § 3553(a), and the relevant policy statements under the Sentencing Commission, Defendant’s Motion for Compassionate Release is DENIED,” Sands ruled.
After holding hearings, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Q. Langstaff previously found that Parnell failed to establish evidence that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance, and therefore recommended against the 2255 Moton to vacate the conviction and sentence.
The Langstaff report went to Sands for his either acceptance or rejection, and he completely endorses the magistrate’s findings and denial of Parnell’s motion.
Parnell and his brother Stewart Parnell, the former president of the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA). were among those indicted over a 2008-09 Salmonella outbreak.
Michael Parnell managed PCA’s sale of peanut paste to the Kellogg Company. Until its demise in 2009, PCA made and sold peanut products to food producers across the United States.
Federal authorities identified PCA’s production plant in Blakely, Georgia, as the source of a nationwide salmonella outbreak. Following a four-year investigation, the Parnell brothers were indicted for their conduct regarding food safety at PCA
Here’s how Sands remembers what went down:
“At trial, the Government presented evidence that Petitioner Michael Parnell, and his brother and Co-Defendant Stewart, conspired with senior management at PCA to defraud its customers regarding the safety of its products.
“At Stewart Parnell’s direction, PCA re-tested product that tested positive for salmonella until it obtained a negative result, or shipped product before receiving the test results on that product, and even shipped product after receiving positive test results. The Government also presented evidence regarding a scheme that Stewart, Michael, and other senior management designed to help PCA meet production demands for Kellogg’s account. In September 2007.
“PCA started assigning future lot numbers to samples of peanut paste that it sent for testing. It used those test results to create Certificates of Analysis for new lots of peanut paste that it shipped to Kellogg’s. The Certificate of Analysis for Kellogg’s orders contained test results for a sample pulled from a previous lot. The lot that was shipped had not been tested. PCA took samples from the new lot, assigned future lot numbers to those samples, and sent them for testing to keep the practice going. PCA did not inform Kellogg’s if test results for a lot that had already shipped came back positive.
Between January 2008 and January 2009, more than 60 percent of paste lots for Kellogg’s had not undergone any microbiological testing. Petitioner Michael Parnell, along with other Co-Defendants, knew that PCA had received positive salmonella test results before the salmonella outbreak. But they were not forthcoming with the FDA during its investigation.”
Michael Parnell filed his 2255 Motion to Vacate on March 5, 2019. It is sometimes referred to as a Habeus Corpus motion. Stewart Parnell’s 2255 motion, also filed in 2019, was also turned down by Sands and is currently on appeal in the federal court’s 11th Circuit
Michael Parnell argued, “that his trial counsel, Mr. Ed Tolley, provided ineffective assistance by (1) failing to move for a change of venue, (2) failing to strike jurors for cause who knew about allegations of death resulting from the salmonella outbreak, (3) failing to investigate witnesses that were made known to counsel and would have materially discredited Government’s key witnesses, and (4) failing to investigate after discovering jurors were potentially influenced by out-of-court information.”
Sands found those ” objections to be without merit”
Thousands were sickened with Salmonella because PCA peanut butter and peanut paste were contaminated in 2008-09, and there were nine deaths associated with the outbreak.
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