11Alive's Kevin Rowson trails Stewart Parnell, owner and president of the Peanut Corporation of America, after he refused to answer questions at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Capitol Hill February 11, 2009 in Washington. (File photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON -- Four former officials of the Peanut Corporation of America were named in a 76-count indictment Thursday on charges related to salmonella-tainted peanuts and peanut products.
"The evidence they had back in 2008 hasn't changed in the past 4 years", said wrongful death attorney Ron Simon, "So it's a little bit puzzling why it took so long to finally make the decision to prosecute."
Simon represented most of the victims from one of the nation's largest food poisoning outbreaks.
3 years ago, 11Alive's Center for Investigative Action tried to get the owner of the Peanut Corporation of America, Stewart Parnell to open up about what happened. He denied doing anything wrong. This week we got a different story in an unsealed multi-page indictment handed down by a federal grand jury.
"Well I tell you we got lots of calls from our clients that were involved in the outbreak and I think the general feeling is vindication," Simon said.
The charges cap an inquiry that began in 2009 after the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control traced a national outbreak of salmonella to a PCA plant in Blakely, Ga.
The salmonella outbreak sickened more than 714 people in 46 states and may have contributed to nine deaths, the CDC reported. The illnesses began in January of 2009 and led to one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history, involving thousands of products.
An FDA inspection of the plant found dirty, unsanitary conditions. The company's own testing had found salmonella contamination, but it continued to ship its products, according to the FDA.
In some instances, the company had the product tested again by a different laboratory and got a clean test result, FDA officials said.