Former FDA commissioner Lester M. Crawford pled guilty on Oct. 17 to federal charges that he failed to disclose ownership of stocks in firms regulated by the agency. He was charged specifically with filing false documents and violating conflict-of-interest laws, both misdemeanors.
In his financial documents, Crawford stated that his shares of Sysco and Kimberly-Clark had been sold when, in fact, he still owned them. He also failed to disclose ownership of PepsiCo stock and income from the exercise of Embrex stock options.
"One of the most important principles of our ethics laws is that public officials cannot have a financial interest in any decision they make," says U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor. "Crawford blatantly violated these principles."
Crawford was acting commissioner of FDA from March 2004 until July 2005, when he became commissioner. He resigned that position after only two months. While at the agency, he chaired the FDA Obesity Working Group. Decisions of this group could have affected stock values of both PepsiCo and Sysco, leading manufacturers of food products.
The Office of Inspector General at the Department of Health & Human Services initiated the investigation after several lawmakers said they were concerned about Crawford's sudden departure from FDA.
Crawford is scheduled to be sentenced in January and could be sent to prison for up to one year for each charge. But his lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, a partner at Wiley Rein & Fielding in Washington, D.C., says it is likely he will receive only fines and probation.