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Guilty Plea in Strawberries Case

November 13, 1997

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ The former president of a company that supplied Mexican strawberries that made more than 200 Michigan schoolchildren ill with hepatitis pleaded guilty today to lying and other counts.

Frederick L. Williamson pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to conspiracy, making false statements and making a false claim. He could be sentenced to up to five years in prison and fined $250,000 for each of the three counts.

Williamson also pleaded guilty on behalf of Andrew & Williamson Sales Co. of San Diego, which could be fined up to $500,000 per count.

Andrew & Williamson Sales Co. and its former president were indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly lying about the source of its fruit.

Sentencing was scheduled for Feb. 2. Williamson, who remains an officer in the company, remained free in the meantime.

Under a settlement agreement the company agreed to pay $1.3 million in civil damages plus a $200,000 criminal fine over the next five years. The company also will have to pay an undetermined sum to states for cleanup, damages and the cost of destroying berries. Remaining counts in the indictment will be dropped.

Williamson’s son, Fred Jr., who is also an officer in the company, said the government’s charges stemmed from ``a single transaction in a minor and now-discontinued segment of our business. It is and was an anomaly that will not be repeated.″

In March, more than 260 children and teachers developed hepatitis A after eating frozen strawberries in the Michigan school lunch program.

The berries were traced to Andrew & Williamson, which processed and supplied berries imported from Mexico to the federal school lunch program in violation of federal law, which requires produce in the program to be grown domestically.

After the outbreak, the company was ordered to remove the berries from 16 states and the District of Columbia.

Hepatitis A is an infectious disease that causes liver inflammation. Symptoms are fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea and jaundice.

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