The prosecution of many white-collar crimes has become more serious in the last few decades. While the U.S. Attorney’s Office is not an elected position, it is a political appointment and is far from immune to political pressures.
Over the last few decades, large-scale scandals, from the savings and loan crisis of the early 1990s to the financial fraud of Enron, followed by the mortgage crisis and near collapse of the banking industry, has fueled anger at perceptions of white-collar offenses being ignored or subject to insufficient prosecution.
So it is not surprising that the owner of a peanut supplier in Georgia has been sentenced to 28 years in federal prison. He was the owner of a peanut processing plant that shipped peanut butter that was contaminated with salmonella and was linked to the deaths of nine people in 2009. More than 700 were sickened with the illness. He was found guilty on 67 criminal counts.
For the 61-year-old, the sentence could very well turn into a life sentence, as his attorney pointed out and he promises to appeal, arguing that such a sentence was “out of line” for similar prosecutions involving food poisoning.
The prosecution, however, was not for causing the deaths of anyone, but for fraudulent concealment of contamination to the company’s customers, such as Kellogg’s, which used the peanut butter in their own food products.
Some of the difficulty with his defense came from evidence in statements and emails, where he showed clear indifference the risk of shipping food that tested positive for salmonella and where he seemed more concerned for potential losses. The facility where the peanut butter was made had a leaky roof, rodents and roaches. The company shipped a product that tested positive for contamination and used forged lab test results.
Lax or ineffective regulation may have created an environment where some businesses may believe they can ignore such issues, but prosecutions like this are a reminder that extremely severe penalties are possible.
Source: talkingpointsmemo.com, “Ex-Peanut Exec Gets 28 Years Prison For Deadly Salmonella Poisonings,” Russ Bynum, September 22, 2015