U.S. News

Former FDA Chief Sentenced to Three Years' Probation


A judge on Tuesday sentenced former Food and Drug Administration chief Lester Crawford to three years' 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,'' Robinson said in a 90-minute hearing in which she sometimes questioned the level of Crawford's remorse.

Robinson also ordered Crawford to conduct 50 hours of community service and to pay the costs of his supervised probation.

Crawford, 69, pleaded guilty last 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.

Crawford did, however, pay taxes on the dividends and the options he exercised, according to prosecutors.

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 Robinson during the hearing. ''I should've communicated better with the people helping me'' on the financial forms.

Noting that public officials must take whatever steps necessary to ''avoid an appearance of a conflict of interest,'' Crawford said, ''I understand that.''

He declined to comment after the sentence.

Earlier, defense attorney Barbara Van Gelder argued that Crawford shouldn't be punished too harshly since there was no evidence that 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 and Pepsico.

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

Prosecutors had said the proposed $50,000 fine was appropriate.

They noted it would exceed the roughly $39,000 that Crawford and his wife made from exercising options and in dividends from the illegally held stocks.

Crawford also was cooperative once prosecutors began their criminal investigation in late 2005, said assistant U.S. Attorney Howard Sklamberg.

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

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