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Former FDA chief under criminal investigation

[JURIST] Lester Crawford [official profile], the embattled former head of the US Food and Drug Administration [official website] who stepped down [JURIST report] in September 2005 after only three months in office in the midst of a furor over the agency's refusal to authorize over-the-counter distribution of Plan B emergency contraceptives [product backgrounder], is under criminal investigation by a grand jury for alleged financial wrongdong and making false statements to Congress. The existence of the probe was disclosed by Crawford's lawyer Thursday during proceedings in a civil suit against him by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights prompted by the Plan B debacle. Attorney Barbara Van Gelder told the judge in that case that she would advise Crawford to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination if he were questioned this coming week on his tenure at the FDA. In October last year the New York Times reported that financial disclosure forms from Crawford and his wife revealed they had sold shares in companies regulated by the FDA in 2004, leading to lawmakers calling for an investigation [Boston Globe report].

In August 2005, a high-ranking FDA official resigned in protest [JURIST report] over the agency's continued delay in deciding whether to approve emergency contraceptive pills for over-the-counter-sale. Crawford and supporters have argued that his refusal to authorize general distribution of the drug was grounded on scientific and legal concerns rather than political ideology [JURIST report]. A GAO report released in November nonetheless characterized the FDA's review of Plan B as procedurally "unusual" [JURIST report]. Saturday's New York Times has more.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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