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FORMER CORONA CITY COUNCILMAN PLEADS GUILTY TO LYING TO FBI AGENTS INVESTIGATING HIS BANKRUPTCY CASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 17, 2011

LOS ANGELES  – A former Corona City Councilman and founder of the company that developed Nature’s Recipe dog food pleaded guilty this morning to a federal offense of lying to special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Jeffrey Bennett, 57, of Corona, who for a time served as the city’s mayor, pleaded guilty this morning in United States District Court to one count of making false statements, a felony charge that carries a maximum statutory penalty of five years in federal prison.

Bennett admitted that he lied to FBI agents during an interview on July 13, 2009. The agents were investigating information that Bennett might have committed bank fraud, bankruptcy fraud and other crimes in connection with a $9 million line of credit he had been granted by City National Bank, according to a plea agreement filed in the case. During the interview, Bennett told the agents that Earth Elements, Inc., his company that developed the Nature’s Recipe brand, had been inactive since the brand was sold to the H.J. Heinz Company in 1996 and had been filing “zero dollar” tax returns for years. However, as Bennett admitted in court today, Earth Elements received millions of dollars in 2002 and 2003 as the result of lawsuits filed prior to the sale and had filed no tax returns since 2001.

In the plea agreement, Bennett agreed to file accurate tax returns for Earth Elements before June 30 and to pay a taxes due to the Internal Revenue Service. Bennett further agreed not to conceal, transfer or dissipate funds or property that could be used to satisfy taxes, penalties and interest owed by the company for the 2002 and 2003 tax years.

Bennett pleaded guilty before United States District Judge John F. Walter, who is scheduled to sentence the defendant on June 6.

The case against Bennett was investigated by the FBI.

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Release No. 11-038

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