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Ex-peanut plant head says he lied about salmonella

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 14, 2014 at 2:45 pm •  Published: August 14, 2014
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ALBANY, Ga. (AP) — A former manager of a south Georgia peanut processing plant blamed for a deadly salmonella outbreak lied to federal investigators to protect the company he worked for but decided to come clean after realizing how many people had been sickened, he testified Thursday.

Food and Drug Administration investigators were inspecting the Peanut Corporation of America plant in Blakely in January 2009. Samuel Lightsey said he lied to those investigators about positive tests for salmonella in the company's product and about the frequency of testing done at the plant.

"I was trying to play damage control, trying to protect the company," Lightsey testified at the trial of his former boss and company owner Stewart Parnell, and two others.

Parnell and his brother, food broker Michael Parnell, are accused of shipping tainted products to customers and covering up lab tests showing they contained salmonella. Stewart Parnell and the plant's quality assurance manager, Mary Wilkerson, also are charged with obstructing justice.

Lightsey managed the plant from July 2008 until the company went bankrupt following the outbreak in 2009 and was the top manager, reporting directly to Stewart Parnell. He pleaded guilty to seven criminal counts in May after agreeing to testify for prosecutors in exchange for a lighter sentence. He's been on the stand for about four days, and defense attorneys have not yet had a chance to question him.

He initially thought the salmonella outbreak was relatively limited in scope when he started lying to investigators. But when he saw the number of people sickened begin to rise, he decided to tell the truth, he said.

The outbreak in late 2008 and early 2009 sickened more than 700 people and killed nine — three in Minnesota, two in Ohio, two in Virginia, one in Idaho and one in North Carolina. It prompted one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history.

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