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Published: Wednesday, 3/14/2012

Ohio judge accepts Scotts Miracle-Gro guilty plea

Defers decision on $4.5M payment of fine

BY ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS
AP LEGAL AFFAIRS WRITER

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A judge has accepted a guilty plea by Ohio lawn and garden company Scotts Miracle-Gro to violating federal environmental laws while deferring a decision on a deal that requires the company to pay a $4 million fine and give $500,000 to help support wildlife study and preservation.

The Marysville-based company faced allegations it used a toxic pesticide on birdfeed sold nationwide for two years, including six months after employees warned against it.

The government also says a manager used bogus federal documents to obtain state registrations for several products and created fake correspondence between the company and the government when challenged.

U.S. District Court Judge James Graham on Tuesday accepted the guilty plea and said he'll make a decision on the plea deal at sentencing, which has yet to be scheduled.

The government alleges that beginning in 2005, Scotts produced a line of wild bird products under names including "Morning Song" and "Country Pride" that contained an insecticide to prevent insects from eating the product during storage.

The government says the insecticide, which is highly toxic to fish, birds and other wildlife, wasn't approved for use for bird food.

The company continued to use the insecticide even after two Scotts employees warned the company about the potential threat to birds, according to the government.

The government also said a company manager fabricated documents and correspondence for two products that were being marketed without U.S. EPA registration.

The manager "told EPA that these files proved that the products had been properly reviewed and registered by EPA when, in fact, they were not authentic EPA files and when, in fact, the products had not been approved and registered by EPA," the government said.

The government also said that between 2005 and 2007 the company sold two pesticides without directions required by the EPA and making claims on labels about the product that the EPA had rejected.

A message was left Wednesday with Scotts seeking comment.



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