FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CRM Thursday, November 13, 1997 (202) 616-2765 TDD (202) 514-1888 GOVERNMENT'S CRIMINAL PROBE INTO SALE OF CONTAMINATED STRAWBERRIES ENDS TODAY WITH GUILTY PLEAS
A federal probe into the sale of hepatitis-tainted strawberries ended today with criminal and civil pleas by a strawberry distributor and its president, Attorney General Janet Reno and Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman announced. The March, 1997 outbreak contaminated 198 school children and teachers in Michigan, as well as others in Maine and Wisconsin.
Andrew and Williamson Sales Co., Inc. ("A&W"), and its president, Frederick L. Williamson, admitted their role in the fraudulent sale of 1,742,280 pounds of Mexican grown strawberries to the USDA's school lunch program.
As part of a parallel civil settlement, the company has agreed to pay the government $1.3 million in civil damages.
Today's guilty pleas, together with the May 21, 1997 guilty plea of Richard H. Kershaw, the sales representative in charge of A&W's frozen strawberry business, end the government's probe into the sale of strawberries that caused the Hepatitis A outbreak.
"We have to be vigilant in pursuing those who harm our nation's children. I am pleased that we were able to work quickly and effectively with the Agriculture Department and others to achieve a proper resolution," said Reno.
The indictment charges A&W with attempting to disguise the fact that the strawberries it was supplying to the USDA were not grown domestically, as required by the agency.
"This agreement sends a message that USDA will not tolerate violations of our 'Buy American' policy for federal food programs," said Glickman.
Both defendants pleaded guilty to violations of conspiracy to defraud the United States, making a false statement, and making a false claim. This plea exposes Williamson to a prison term of up to 15 years and requires the company to pay a $200,000 criminal fine. The firm also remains responsible for the removal and safe disposal of 916,380 pounds of unconsumed frozen strawberries sold to the USDA.
Defendants Williamson and A&W are scheduled to be sentenced on February 2, 1998. Defendant Kershaw's sentencing is set for December 1, 1997.