As part of sentencing preparations for a man who admits to selling more than $6 million of fertilizer fraudulently labeled as organic to California growers, the Justice Department is accepting victim statements from growers.
Peter Townsley, former owner of California Liquid Fertilizer, admitted to selling the non-organic fertilizer in a plea agreement in February. He pleaded guilty to two counts of mail fraud for documents he mailed to the Organic Materials Review Institute.
He faces up to 20 years on each count, for a possible total of 40 years in prison, and maximum fines of $250,000 on each count. The judge has not set a sentencing date.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Badger said federal guidelines require the judge to consider losses when deciding the sentence. The Justice Department and Townsley’s lawyer have filed briefs reflecting extremely different loss amounts.
Without having Townsley serve as a middleman, growers could have bought the non-organic fertilizer for about $1 million, the government contends. The growers paid Townsley more than $6.5 million, meaning their losses totaled about $5.5 million.
Townsley says the difference would have been only $700,000 to $1 million had he not been involved.
The judge is considering other losses, such as the effect the scandal had on individual growers as well as the entire organic sector.
Badger said she expects Miles McEvoy, head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program, to file court documents regarding industry effect and losses.
Badger said the U.S. Attorney’s office is collecting victim statements from growers who bought the fertilizer. The statements will go to the probation officer who is preparing a pre-sentencing report on the case, which will be submitted to the judge.
Growers can send statements to Badger’s attention at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, 450 Golden Gate Ave. 11th Floor, San Francisco, Calif., 94102.