October 17 2006
(NewsTarget) Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner Lester Crawford is set to plead guilty today to charges of filing false financial disclosure forms and conflicts of interest, according to court papers filed yesterday by the Justice Department.
The government charges that Crawford and his wife owned stock in several companies that fell under FDA regulation, and failed to fully disclose that information as required by federal law. The court papers also charge that Crawford assured federal ethics officers that he and his wife had sold stock in those companies, when they had not.
Crawford's attorney, Barbara Van Gelder, said that under a plea agreement, her client would not dispute the government's charges, and would likely face fines and a possible prison term of up to two years.
"At the end of the day, he owned these stocks and he will admit he owned them while he was at the FDA and he will take responsibility for that," Van Gelder said.
The Justice Department found that Crawford and his wife owned stock in Pepsico Inc., Sysco Corp., Kimberly-Clark Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other companies regulated by the FDA. At one point, Crawford -- who owned at least $140,000 of stock in soda maker Pepsico and food distributor Sysco -- acted as chairman of an FDA panel charged with studying the obesity problem. Crawford's decision on that panel would have affected both companies.
The court papers also charge that Crawford did not disclose his income from exercising stock options in agricultural biotechnology company Embrex Inc., for which he had been a member of the board of directors.
Crawford -- a food safety expert and veterinarian -- unexpectedly resigned from his position as head of the FDA in September 2005 without giving reason. He'd officially held the position for two months, though he had been acting head of the agency for more than a year.
FDA critic Mike Adams, author of "Grocery Warning," calls the FDA a "criminal organization" and claims it puts pharmaceutical and food industry profits ahead of public safety. Adams called the charges against Crawford "yet another serious blow to the illusion of FDA credibility.
"Crawford's guilty plea now establishes as indisputable fact what myself and other FDA critics have been saying for years: The agency is headed by white-collar criminals who deliberately make regulatory decisions that are in the best interests of drug companies and junk food giants, rather than protecting the health of the public," Adams said.