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Lawyer representing Salmonella Victims Questions Peanut Corp. of America Officials

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Lynchburg, VA: "I've seen a lot of egregious behavior by corporations as a way to profit but I have never seen anything like this," says attorney Ron Simon. Last week, Simon, who represents more than 50 families in the national peanut butter salmonella outbreak questioned Peanut Corp. of America (PCA) President Stewart Parnell and his daughter, Grey Adams. "Parnell has exhibited complete disdain for his customers and the law," Simon adds.

Peanut ButterSimon was the only trial lawyer present at the 341 bankruptcy hearing to ask the PCA officials about their debts and assets and more...

A 341 bankruptcy hearing is a chance for the trustee to get clarification of the debtor's debts and credits; it is also an opportunity for any creditor to also ask questions about any assets and liabilities. "I asked Parnell and his daughter, who was also the PCA accountant, about the insurance policies that are available to pay my clients for personal injury and death," says Simon. "Grey Adams confirmed they have a $24 million policy insured by the Hartford Insurance company."

Not only did Simon confirm the insurance policy; Grey also said that PCA had spent $60,000 in August 2008 to repair a leaky roof in the plant. "That is significant because the only way that you can get salmonella is to consume food that has bird or animal feces in it," explains Simon, "and the primary vehicle for getting feces into the peanut butter is for water to mix with feces and drip into peanut butter."

Apparently, the roof was so bad it was causing leaks throughout the plant. Incredibly, that is exactly what happened two years ago with the ConAgra peanut butter outbreak.
"Two years ago every peanut butter company in the world knew they had better not have a leaky roof," says Simon.

Why did PCA allow its facilities to become so rundown and jeopardize consumer safety?
Simon says it profited PCA to be that way. "Instead of putting money into safety measures such as a better roof and better sanitation measures and routine monitoring of the peanut roaster, PCA purchased a corporate jet and flew its people to places as far away as Morocco," says Simon. "This is a peanut company in Georgia!"

The PCA officials also confirmed that they spent over $250,000 on criminal defense lawyers and PR firms after the recall but they have not spent one penny to compensate the victims of the outbreak.

"When I questioned Parnell about what was going on in that plant in 2007 and 2008, for the first time ever in a legal setting, he pled the 5th amendment in order not to incriminate himself upon the advice of his criminal lawyers," says Simon.

The Leaky Roof Cover Up

By September 1st people started getting sick from salmonella. Simon says the roof was already leaking bird feces before it was repaired, so the contaminated product is already out the door—like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. But wait, it gets worse…

"The more heinous thing they did was knowingly ship 12 batches of peanuts that had tested positive for salmonella," says Simon. "The contaminated product was shipped to nursing homes, school cafeterias and grocery stores and wholesale outlets."

According to the FDA (who later investigated the plant and found documents), PCA hired
two independent labs to test the peanuts—they tested positive for salmonella. But after the outbreak, Stewart Parnell sent an email to his employees stating that PCA peanuts had never tested positive for salmonella (the agency also found Parnell's emails).

"This guy has a rat hole of a plant with a roof leaking like a sieve and instead of putting profits back into the plant, he buys a corporate jet," says Simon, fuming. "When he gets caught, he lies to his employees about the peanuts testing positive."

The law firm Simon & Luke is currently fighting with the Hartford insurance company to collect the benefits of those policies for their clients. Simon says the creditors do not have access to the insurance policy's proceeds. Simon also represents two families who have lost a loved one.

"We will not rest until every one of our clients is fully compensated," Simon says. "I can tell you that justice is coming—after all, I'm a Texas trial lawyer."

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