News

Former FDA commissioner is fined $90 000 for failing to disclose conflicts of interest

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39142.592130.DB (Published 08 March 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:492
  1. Janice Hopkins Tanne
  1. New York

    Lester Crawford, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, was last week fined $89 377 (£45 800; €67 000), sentenced to three years of supervised probation, and required to do 50 hours of community service by Judge Deborah Robinson of the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

    Last October Dr Crawford pleaded guilty to two charges: failing to report that he and his wife owned shares in companies regulated by the agency and filing false financial reports. The reports are required by US law. The companies included Pepsico, Kimberly-Clark, and Sysco. At the time Dr Crawford was head of the FDA's obesity working group (BMJ 2006; 333:874, doi: 10.1136/bmj.333.7574.874-a).

    Each charge carried a possible one year prison term and a $100 000 fine.

    The judge increased the fine from the $50 000 that Dr Crawford and his lawyer had negotiated in a plea agreement, the Associated Press news agency reported. Dr Crawford and his wife made about $39 000 from options and dividends from companies regulated by the agency. They did, however, pay tax on the income.

    In March 2006 Dr Crawford joined Policy Directions, a lobbying firm in Washington, DC. He is prohibited from lobbying Congress for at least a year.

    Dr Crawford, a veterinarian and an expert on food safety, worked at the FDA for about 30 years, but his permanent appointment as commissioner was held up by senators protesting at the agency's delays in approving the over the counter sale of an emergency contraceptive (BMJ 2005;330:1466, doi: 10.1136/bmj.330.7506.1466-d).

    He was finally appointed in 2005 after he promised to take swift action on the contraceptive. He decided to postpone the decision and call for public comment (BMJ 2005;331:472, doi: 10.1136/bmj.331.7515.472).

    After only two months as commissioner Dr Crawford resigned. He said, “It is time, at the age of 67, to step aside.” However, the New York Times reported that his resignation was related to the fact he had not fully disclosed financial information during Senate hearings about his appointment (BMJ 2005;331;713, doi: 10.1136/bmj.331.7519.713).

    After he resigned, several senators and members of the House of Representatives asked Daniel Levinson, inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, the parent agency of the FDA, to investigate.

    At the time of Dr Crawford's guilty plea Mr Levinson said, “Any government official's disregard of the conflict of interest laws undermines the integrity of the rules of conduct established for all those in government. Tax payers must have confidence that administrators of government programmes will be objective and free from improper influences in carrying out their official duties.”

    US Department of Justice attorney Jeffrey Taylor said, “One of the most important principles of our ethics laws is that public officials cannot have a financial interest in any decision they make.”

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