Samuel Lightsey, who formerly managed the Peanut Corp. of America, which was implicated in a 2008-2009 nationwide Salmonella outbreak, has entered a guilty plea to six of 76 criminal charges, including conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, obstruction of justice, and other counts related to the distribution of adulterated or misbranded food. United States v. Samuel Lightsey, No. 13-CR-12 (U.S. Dist. Ct., M.D. Ga., Albany Div., plea entered May 7, 2014). Facing a potential sentence of six years in prison, Lightsey has agreed to cooperate with the prosecution. The outbreak sickened more than 700 who consumed products containing tainted peanut paste, and at least nine died.
According to the plea agreement, in September 2008, Lightsey and others shipped a lot of peanut paste from the company’s Blakely, Georgia, facility “without ever having submitted a sample from said lot to a laboratory for microbiological testing.” This food was misbranded because it was accompanied by a document containing test results “from a previously manufactured lot of peanut paste.” It was adulterated because it contained Salmonella. The agreement also states that, after the outbreak was traced to the Blakely facility and U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspectors sought production of relevant records, Lightsey and another employee concealed and withheld from the agency a log listing “the sample numbers of all samples of peanut products submitted for microbiological testing during calendar year 2008.”
The agreement mentions former owner Stewart Parnell in connection with particular email transmissions about changing peanut-paste specifications for a customer. Information on proceedings about whether Parnell’s expert witness’s testimony—proffered as to Parnell’s ability to form the intent to commit the alleged crimes—is admissible under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), appears in Issue 517 of this Update.