Two More Peanut Company Employees Sentenced To Prison For Deadly Salmonella Outbreak

A week after a court sentenced the former owner of Peanut Corporation of America to 28 years behind bars for knowingly distributing salmonella-tainted food products tied to nine deaths and potentially thousands of illnesses, two more PCA staffers have received federal prison sentences for their part in the conspiracy to defraud and sicken consumers.

Samuel Lightsey, a former operations manager at PCA’s plant in Blakely, GA, received a sentence of three years in federal prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release.

Another former manager at Blakely, Daniel Kilgore, will serve six years behind bars, also to be followed by three years of supervised release.

Both men pleaded guilty to conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, and the sale of misbranded and adulterated food — all tied to a 2008-2009 outbreak of salmonella that was traced back to PCA products.

While the government has confirmed 714 illnesses in 46 states directly related to the PCA outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, believes that there were more than 20,000 additional cases that were not reported.

In 2014, Lightsey and Kilgore both testified in the trial of since-convicted PCA owner Stewart Parnell, his brother and PCA food broker Michael, and Blakely manager Mary Wilkerson. Michael Parnell received a sentence of 20 years, while Wilkerson was sentenced to five years in prison and two years probation.

The government says the two men aided the Parnells in defrauded PCA customers about the presence of salmonella in the company’s products by, among other things, fabricating certificates of analysis — documents that summarize laboratory results, including test results concerning the presence or absence of pathogens in food — that accompanied food shipments.

The bogus certificates declared that the PCA products were free of pathogens, but prosecutors say the company failed to test for salmonella or other potential bugs.

And when FDA officials visited the Blakely plant to investigate the outbreak, Stewart Parnell, Lightsey and Wilkerson gave untrue or misleading answers to officials’ questions.

“Today’s sentences are a just result,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “They reflect the roles that the defendants played in these terrible acts, their acceptance of responsibility for those roles, and their willingness to assist the government, albeit after the fact, in ensuring that all of those who engaged in criminal activity were held accountable.”

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.