Courts & Crime

Tomato industry executive charged in corruption probe

A former senior executive of a major California food company was charged Wednesday in Sacramento federal court with conspiring to provide consumers with mislabeled, inferior tomato products at inflated prices.

Jeffrey Sherman Beasley, who was a vice president of SK Foods LP, is the highest-ranking insider to be charged in the expanding tale of corruption in California's tomato industry.

Beasley has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with the government in its ongoing investigation, according to prosecutors Benjamin Wagner and Sean Flynn.

Beasley, 63, of Lockeford in San Joaquin County, was vice president for industrial relations at SK Foods from 2004 to 2008. He worked at its then-headquarters in Monterey and at its offices in Ripon in San Joaquin County.

Acting U.S. Attorney Lawrence Brown vowed Wednesday that his office will continue to pursue those involved in what he called a "widespread fraud in the American marketplace." The long-running probe is a joint effort of the FBI, the IRS and the U.S. Department of Justice's Antitrust Division.

SK Foods LP, with two Central Valley plants, was a grower, processor and distributor of tomato and other food products for sale to manufacturers, distributors, marketers and retail outlets. In June the company, which was part of agribusiness tycoon Scott Salyer's SK Foods Group, was sold out of bankruptcy for $39 million to Olam International of Singapore.

Beasley is accused of plotting with others at the company "to defraud and deprive" customers of the honest services of their purchasing managers by bribing them.

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