Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A judge yesterday sentenced Lester Crawford, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, to three years of supervised probation with fines of roughly $90,000 for lying about stocks he owned in companies regulated by his agency.

Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson’s sentence spares Crawford jail time but is stiffer than the punishment of $50,000 proposed by federal prosecutors and his defense attorney.

“While the total fine exceeds what the parties agreed to, the fine is well below the maximum under the statute,” Judge Robinson said in a 90-minute hearing in which she sometimes questioned the extent of Crawford’s remorse.

The judge also ordered Crawford to perform 50 hours of community service and to pay the costs of his supervised probation.

Crawford, 69, pleaded guilty in October to charges of having a conflict of interest and false reporting of information about stocks that he and his wife owned. Beginning in 2002, Crawford filed seven incorrect financial reports with a government ethics office and Congress.

However, Crawford paid taxes on the dividends and the options he exercised, prosecutors said.

The two charges — conflict of interest and false reporting — are misdemeanors and each carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

“I want to assure you that I accept responsibility for what I’ve done,” Crawford told the judge. “I should’ve communicated better with the people helping me” on the financial forms.

He declined to comment after the sentence.

Defense attorney Barbara Van Gelder argued that her client should receive leniency because there was no evidence he had schemed to defraud or misuse his office for personal gain.

She sought to characterize Crawford’s actions as poor oversight after he failed to double-check the accuracy of statements he signed attesting to stocks he and his wife, Cathy, owned in food, beverage and medical companies such as Embrex Inc. and Pepsico Inc.

“He is humble, he is remorseful,” Mrs. Van Gelder said. “The stigma of conviction has weighed heavily on him. That stigma will follow Dr. Crawford wherever he goes.”

Prosecutors had said the proposed $50,000 fine was appropriate and that it would exceed the roughly $39,000 that the Crawfords made from exercising options and in dividends from the illegally held stocks.

Crawford cooperated once prosecutors began their criminal investigation in late 2005, said assistant U.S. Attorney Howard R. Sklamberg.

“Lester Crawford behaved in a way that was indifferent to the ethics rules,” Mr. Sklamberg said. “It was callous and it was arrogant. But it also was not fraudulent and not part of a grand scheme.”

Crawford, a veterinarian and food-safety specialist, abruptly resigned from the FDA in September 2005 but gave no reason for leaving. He had held the job for two months after his confirmation by the Senate.

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