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Former Corona mayor pleads guilty to lying to the FBI during bank fraud probe

March 17, 2011 |  6:14 pm

A former Corona mayor and developer of the Nature’s Recipe dog food brand pleaded guilty Thursday to lying to FBI agents during a bank fraud investigation into his dog food company, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Jeffrey Bennett, 57, pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements and could face a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.

Federal authorities were investigating Bennett’s company, Earth Elements Inc., which developed the Nature’s Recipe brand. Investigators were trying to determine if Bennett had committed bank fraud or bankruptcy fraud related to his company’s $9-million line of credit with City National Bank.

In 2009, Bennett told FBI agents that his company had been inactive since the dog food brand was sold to the H.J. Heinz Co. in 1996 and had been filing “zero dollar” tax returns. But in court Thursday, Bennett admitted that his company received millions of dollars in 2002 and 2003 from lawsuit settlements from legal actions filed before the sale, and that he had not filed tax returns since 2001, according to a statement released by the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.

As part of his plea agreement, Bennett has promised to pay all back taxes owed.

RELATED:

Riverside County won't prosecute Corona officials

Corona councilman's bankruptcy adds fuel to political fire

2 Corona councilmen's e-mails must be released

-- Phil Willon in Riverside

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