Peter Townsley, who sold non-compliant Biolizer XN fertilizer in California’s Salinas Valley from 2000 to 2006, begins a 364 day federal prison sentence today.
U.S. Judge Charles Breyer imposed the sentence on Nov. 7,including a $125,000 fine and six months in a halfway house for the beginning of a three year probation when Townsley gets out prison.
Townsley, the former owner California Liquid Fertilizer, pleaded guility to fraud over his sale of at least $6.5 million worth of fertilizer that was not organic-compliant to organic industry leaders including Earthbound Farm and Tanimura & Antle.
His sentence also requires Townsley to perform 1,000 hours of public service in organic agriculture during his probationary period. Judge Breyer said he’d prefer that the public service be in community organic farming.
The prison sentence is shorter than what was recommended by prosecutors. The U.S. District Attorney for Northern California asked for 42 months of jail time. Maximum possible was 40 years in prison and a fine up to $500,000.
However, a federal probation officer assigned to the case recommended 12 months of prison time.
Will Daniels, senior vice president of operations and organic integrity for Earthbound Farm in San Juan Batista, CA, said it was important that Townsley “got a fairly stiff sentence.”
“It should serve as a clear warning to those who would violate the regulations that organic integrity is strong and that justice will be served on perpetrators of organic fraud,” Daniels told the produce industry news site The Packer.
In a plea agreement, Townsley admitted to knowingly changing the formula for his fertilizer and mailing annual statements to the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) certifying Biolizer XN fertilizer as meeting all requirements for use in certified organic operations.
He further admitted to selling between $6.5 and $6.9 million of the non-organic product as organic.
In addition to the organic purchasers of the phony fertilizer, several victims testified that through the “ripple effect,” consumer confidence in USDA’s organic certification program was also damaged.
The U.S. Attorney’s sentence recommendation said: “At any time, Townsley could have made the right choice and stopped selling Biolizer XN, but it is clear that he was motivated by one thing — greed.”
Townsley argued the federal and state organic programs were partially to blame because of ineffective enforcement.© Food Safety News