Maine biotech shipper fined, eight convicted for export violations
A Winslow, Maine-based biotechnology firm must pay a $500,000 fine for violating the country’s export control regulations.
According to the U.S. district attorney’s office in Maine, Maine Biological Laboratories (MBL) pled guilty in court on July 20 to receiving an avian influenza virus smuggled from Saudi Arabia, mail fraud, violating the Virus-Serum-Toxin Act, making false statements to the government, and violating the Export Administration Act.
The U.S. District Court for Maine sentenced MBL on Aug. 6 to pay a fine of $500,000 over the next five years.
The court also convicted eight individuals associated with the illegal transaction on various charges. They include John Donahue, MBL’s president; Thomas Swieczkowski, MBL’s vice president for production; Marjorie Evans, vice president for quality assurance and regulatory affairs; Dennis Guerrette, chief financial officer; Mark A. Dekich, a veterinarian working for a Saudi Arabian poultry producer; and John K. Rosenberger, former chairman of the Animal and Food Services Department at the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Two other former MBL employees were sentenced last year: Walter Gogan, production planning manager; and Peggy Lancaster, customer service manager.
According to court papers, MBL agreed to produce an avian influenza vaccine for Dekich’s Saudi Arabian employer in 1998. To make the vaccine, MBL required a sample of the virus. Dekich helped smuggle the sample into the United States and delivered it to MBL and Rosenberger’s lab at the University of Delaware. MBL used the sample to make a vaccine.
“In doing so, MBL made false statements to the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) regarding the nature and contents of the vaccine,” the U.S. attorney’s office said. MBL made two shipments to Saudi Arabia valued at $880,000.
Court records also showed MBL employees knowingly mislabeled vaccines to avoid detection.
Regarding the Export Administration Act violations, court papers revealed that MBL shipped inactivated Newcastle disease vaccines to Syria without the necessary permits, and included language about its business relationship with Israel in its shipping documents, a violation of U.S. antiboycott rules.