“It’s important that Townsley got a fairly stiff sentence,” said Will Daniels, senior vice president of operations and organic integrity at San Juan Batista, Calif.-based Earthbound Farm, one of the victims of the fertilizer fraud.
“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.”
Townsley admitted to intentionally changing the formula for Biolizer XN in April 2000 from a mix of “ocean-going fish, fish by-products, feathermeal and water” to include ammonium chloride. He later changed the formula again, switching the ammonium chloride to ammonium sulfate, and continued to sell until December 2006 as certified for use in organic operations.
Before imposing Townsley’s sentence, Judge Breyer received comments from several interested parties, including Earthbound Farm; Tanimura & Antle, Salinas, Calif.; Miles McEvoy, deputy administrator of the National Organic Program; the California Department of Food and Agriculture; fertilizer company Advanced Marine Technologies, New Bedford, Mass.; and Peggy Miars, executive director of OMRI.
All of the comments stressed the ripple effect Townsley’s actions had on the organic industry because it raised doubts among consumers and undermined the public trust in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic certification program.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture officials told the judge in their comments that Townsley’s scheme resulted in additional regulations in the state that annually cost the organic industry $400,000 in increased fees and testing.
In a request for a 46-month sentence for Townsley, the U.S. Attorney’s office said he not only intentionally perpetrated the fraud, but that he continued to do so while ducking investigators.
“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,” the U.S. Attorney’s office said in its sentence recommendation.
Breyer noted in an order related to the calculation of losses of victims in the Townsley case that “(the) defendant spends much of his briefing running away from his plea and the facts and evidence as presented in this case.”
Townsley requested leniency, saying state and federal governments were partially to blame because they failed to effectively enforce organic certification regulations.