WASHINGTON – Former FDA chief Lester Crawford was charged Monday with lying about his ownership of stock in companies regulated by his agency.
The Justice Department accused the former head of the Food and Drug Administration with falsely reporting that he had sold stock in companies when he continued holding onto shares in the firms governed by FDA rules.
The criminal charges were outlined in court papers known as an "information," a legal document which ordinarily precedes a guilty plea. The Justice Department's fraud and public corruption section filed the papers in U.S. District Court in Washington.
The papers state that Crawford also failed to disclose his income from exercising stock options in Embrex, an agriculture biotechnology company regulated by FDA.
Crawford had been a member of the board of directors of Embrex, according to federal filings.
The former FDA chief was accused of making a false writing and conflict of interest. The court papers say that Crawford chaired FDA's Obesity Working Group at a time when he and his wife owned stock in soft drink and snack food manufacturer Pepsico and food product manufacturer Sysco.
The panel Crawford was chairing was making decisions affecting food and soft drink manufacturers.
Crawford, a veterinarian, abruptly resigned from the FDA job in September 2005 but gave no reason for his decision to step down. He had held the top position for just two months but had been acting head of the regulatory agency for more than a year.
According to the Justice Department's court papers:
— A government ethics official inquired about Crawford's ownership of stock in several companies FDA regulates and Crawford replied in a Dec. 28, 2004 e-mail that "Sysco and Kimberly-Clark have in fact been sold." In fact, the court papers state, Crawford knew that he or his wife held shares in both.
— Even though financial reporting requirements for federal officials say all income must be disclosed, Crawford failed to reveal $8,000 in income from the exercise of Embrex stock options in 2003, and also failed to report $20,000 from the sale of Embrex stock options in 2004.
— At the time he was making decisions chairing the government obesity panel, Crawford and his wife owned more than $25,000 in Pepsico shares and over $25,000 in Sysco shares.