Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Defense grills plant manager in salmonella trial
Food safety » Attorney points out manager’s plea deal, authority to operate the peanut plant.
First Published Aug 19 2014 09:27 am • Last Updated Aug 19 2014 05:02 pm

Albany, Ga. • Defense attorneys for three people charged in a deadly salmonella outbreak sought to deflect blame and poke holes in the government’s case Tuesday as they grilled a co-defendant, who is a key prosecution witness.

The co-defendant, Samuel Lightsey, was a former manager of a Georgia peanut processing plant blamed in the 2008-09 outbreak. He was indicted along with his former boss, Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell, and two others. Lightsey pleaded guilty in May after reaching a deal with prosecutors.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

The 76-count indictment accuses Parnell and his brother, food broker Michael Parnell, of shipping tainted products to customers and covering up lab tests showing they contained salmonella. It also charges Stewart Parnell and the plant’s quality assurance manager, Mary Wilkerson, with obstructing justice.

Tom Bondurant, an attorney for Stewart Parnell, asked Lightsey about his plea agreement, which recommends that he not serve more than six years in prison. He had been facing decades behind bars.

Bondurant then pointed out that the government’s lawyers could ask the judge for further leniency, including no prison time, if Lightsey’s able to "substantially assist" their efforts.

"So the truth alone is not enough. You need a scalp to make this deal work, don’t you?" Bondurant said.

During six days of questioning by a federal prosecutor, Lightsey testified that the company had shipped contaminated products with falsified documents showing them to be free of salmonella; that there was mold and mildew in the plant; and that employees had a pellet gun to shoot birds that got inside the plant.

The salmonella outbreak caused one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history. Food safety investigators found more than 700 people across the country were infected and nine people died — three in Minnesota, two in Ohio, two in Virginia, one in Idaho and one in North Carolina.

Bondurant asked Lightsey a series of questions to demonstrate that Stewart Parnell had given him considerable authority over the Georgia plant and relied on him.

"You made decisions every day about how to run the plant, didn’t you?" Bondurant said.

story continues below
story continues below

"That’s the job," Lightsey responded.

Bondurant also had Lightsey review audits predating the salmonella outbreak that showed the plant receiving high marks from inspectors and a box of what he said was nearly 4,000 lab reports, of which about a dozen tested positive for salmonella.

Bondurant also sought to cast blame on Michael Parnell, whose company, P.P. Sales, bought peanut paste from Peanut Corp. and sold it to Kellogg’s. Bondurant had Lightsey review a sales contract between the brothers’ companies that said the buyer assumes all risk and liability from use of the product.

Michael Parnell’s lawyer, Ed Tolley, then had Lightsey review a "continuing pure food guarantee" issued to his client’s company by Peanut Corp. that included a pledge to provide a product free of contaminant.

Tom Ledford, Wilkerson’s attorney, asked Lightsey whether Wilkerson had cooperated with federal investigators who said they had traced the outbreak to the Georgia plant. Lightsey, who earlier testified that he had lied to Food and Drug Administration investigators, said Wilkerson willingly helped him find documents requested by the investigators.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.