Product defect testing researchers sentenced for fraud
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Product defect testing researchers sentenced for fraud

Tuesday, August 09, 2011By Richard Alexander
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)  announced this week that the final of four sentences handed down in federal court against the president of Tampa- based Youth Research, Inc., and its contractors. Youth Research’s president and two of the firm’s contractors were convicted of various federal offenses related to falsifying data in connection with child resistance testing of cigarette and multi-purpose lighters.

A third contractor was convicted of destroying documents in connection with the federal grand jury investigation of the matter. The tests are required in order to ensure that the lighters are child-resistant and must be conducted in accordance with a specific protocol.

A CPSC Health Scientist first discovered the fraud while examining routine test reports submitted to CPSC by Youth Research. The use of the same children in repeated tests with inconsistent reported birth dates, genders, and schools, and the presence of similar handwriting, misspelled names, and forged parental signatures raised suspicions and sparked CPSC’s investigation. Additional staff at CPSC was brought in to further assess the data and investigate the case.

In January 2007, CPSC referred the case to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Consumer Protection Litigation, which developed additional evidence that demonstrated that fraudulent data was submitted in connection with almost every test performed by Youth Research or its contractors.

CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum praised CPSC staff for its hard work. “I applaud the thorough investigative work of CPSC staff that led to these criminal convictions and sentences,” said Tenenbaum. “Firms are on notice that fraudulent testing of hazardous products such as lighters will not be tolerated by CPSC. Child-resistant lighters prevent young children from starting deadly fires.” Joyce Serventi was sentenced to two years of probation today by Judge Susan Wigenton in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, and ordered to pay a $3,000 fine. Serventi, 62, the President of a New Jersey corporation which contracted to do testing for Youth Research, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy for her role in falsifying data in connection with child resistance testing. Serventi was the last of the four defendants to be sentenced for their roles in the scheme. Youth Research’s President, Karen Forcade, 67, was sentenced on September 21, 2010 for her role in the conspiracy. Judge James D. Whittemore, of the U. S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, sentenced Forcade to eight months in prison followed by eight months of home confinement. She was also ordered to pay a $10,000 fine. Youth Research declared bankruptcy when the CPSC investigation began and is now out of business. Stephanie Van Treuren, 64, a contractor for Youth Research, was sentenced on September 27, 2010 in the Middle District of Florida to two years’ probation, three months of home detention and a fine of $3,000 for her role in the conspiracy. Van Treuren conducted child resistance testing for Youth Research and submitted false data in connection with those tests. Nancy Buhrmann was sentenced to 21 months in prison and two years supervised release for destroying and causing others to destroy paper and electronic documents in connection with a federal grand jury investigation of the fraudulent testing. Buhrmann, 52, was employed as a project manager at a contracting firm in Tampa Bay, Fla., and conducted and supervised child resistance testing of lighters for Karen Forcade and Youth Research. She was sentenced on February 17, 2011, in the Middle District of Florida, and has filed an appeal of that sentence.

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