The New York Times
April 29, 2006
Ex-Head of F.D.A. Faces Criminal Inquiry
By GARDINER HARRIS
WASHINGTON, April 28 - Dr. Lester M. Crawford, the former commissioner of
food and drugs, is under criminal investigation by a federal grand jury over
accusations of financial improprieties and false statements to Congress, his
lawyer said Friday.
The lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, would not discuss the accusations further.
In a court hearing held by telephone on Thursday, she told a federal
magistrate that she would instruct Dr. Crawford to invoke his Fifth
Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination if ordered to answer
questions this week about his actions as head of the Food and Drug
Administration, according to a transcript of the hearing.
Dr. Crawford did not reply to messages seeking comment, and Kathleen Quinn,
an F.D.A. spokeswoman, declined to comment.
Dr. Crawford resigned in September, fewer than three months after the Senate
confirmed him. He said then that it was time for someone else to lead the
The next month, financial disclosure forms released by the Department of
Health and Human Services showed that in 2004 either Dr. Crawford or his
wife, Catherine, had sold shares in companies regulated by the agency when
he was its deputy commissioner and acting commissioner. He has since joined
a Washington lobbying firm, Policy Directions Inc.
The criminal investigation was disclosed at a court hearing in a lawsuit
over the F.D.A.'s actions on the emergency contraceptive Plan B, a subject
of bitter contention during Dr. Crawford's tenure as acting commissioner and
commissioner. After the pill's maker, Barr Laboratories, applied three years
ago to sell the pill over the counter, the agency repeatedly delayed making
a decision on the application.
While many lawmakers, abortion rights advocates and former F.D.A. officials
said the delays had resulted from politics, Dr. Crawford and other agency
officials said their concerns were scientific and legal.
An advocacy group, the Center for Reproductive Rights, sued the agency in
federal court in New York over the delays. Many such suits are quickly
dismissed, but a federal judge allowed the case to proceed, giving the
center the right to interview top F.D.A. officials, including Dr. Crawford.
Dr. Crawford was scheduled to be questioned under oath on Thursday, but on
Wednesday Ms. Van Gelder, who is his personal lawyer, asked for a delay,
saying she would instruct him to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights. Dr.
Crawford previously declined to answer questions from the Government
Accountability Office about Plan B.
Ms. Van Gelder told Magistrate Judge Viktor V. Pohorelsky of the District
Court for the Eastern District of New York on Thursday that Dr. Crawford had
been represented by Justice Department lawyers in the reproductive rights
According to the transcript, she said that Dr. Crawford was under criminal
investigation and that the issue of his financial disclosures "is within the
Before Dr. Crawford's confirmation, the secretary of health and human
services, Michael O. Leavitt, promised that the F.D.A. would act on the Plan
B application by September 2005, a promise that led two Democratic senators,
Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Patty Murray of Washington, to relent
in their efforts to delay the nomination. But after he was confirmed, Dr.
Crawford announced an indefinite delay that has remained in effect.
Simon Heller, a lawyer for the reproductive rights center, noted that the
F.D.A. had long insisted that its actions regarding Plan B were not unusual.
"It would be remarkable if the Justice Department was conducting a criminal
investigation of Plan B and at the same time asserting in a civil case that
everything done was normal," Mr. Heller said.