April 01, 2007


 Former FDA chief fined, sentenced to three years' probation


Posted March 15, 2007

Former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Lester M. Crawford received three years' supervised probation and was fined nearly $90,000 Feb. 27 after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges of failing to inform government ethics officers he owned stock in companies with products regulated by his agency.

Dr. Crawford was spared jail time, but the sentence imposed by Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson was tougher than the $50,000 fine agreed to by federal prosecutors and Dr. Crawford's attorney, Barbara Van Gelder.

"While the total fine exceeds what the parties agreed to, the fine is well below the maximum under the statute," Robinson said during the sentencing hearing. She also ordered Dr. Crawford to complete 50 hours of community service and to pay the costs of his supervised probation.

Two months after the Senate had approved his nomination to head the agency, Dr. Crawford, the first veterinarian to hold the position, abruptly resigned in September 2005, touching off speculation and calls for an investigation.

More than a year later, Dr. Crawford was charged with one count each of conflict of interest and making false financial disclosures. He appeared in federal court in Washington, D.C., and pleaded guilty to the charges, each of which carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine (see JAVMA, Nov. 15, 2006).

Senior FDA employees are barred from owning shares in companies with products the agency regulates. Dr. Crawford was required to file annual financial disclosure reports detailing his and his wife's investment assets along with sources of income exceeding $200.

Dr. Crawford joined the FDA in 2002 as deputy commissioner. The charges stem back to 2004 when Dr. Crawford was the agency's acting commissioner. According to prosecutors, he did not tell government officials that he and his wife owned stocks in food, beverage, and medical device companies, specifically, PepsiCo, Sysco, Kimberly-Clark, and Embrex Inc.

Prosecutors did not accuse Dr. Crawford of using his influence at the FDA to inflate the value of his stocks.