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ORLANDO-Conspiring to defraud the U.S. Customs Service in an 18-year tainted-juice caper was bad enough, but lying during trial testimony was too much for U.S. District Court Judge Patricia C. Fawsett. She gave warehouse owner Patrick T. Lee the maximum six-year prison sentence.

The 50-year-old citrus industry executive was also fined $100,000. His sentence begins Jan. 19. Lee’s lawyer, Harrison Slaughter of Orlando, filed an immediate appeal with the 11th District Court of Appeal in Atlanta.

Lee was convicted of repackaging alleged contaminated frozen orange juice concentrate from damaged drums at his 500,000-sf Mid-Florida Freezer Warehouses Ltd. in Port Canaveral, FL, 60 miles southeast of Downtown Orlando. He denied the charges and maintained the Florida Citrus Commission permits redrumming defective containers.

The alleged bad juice could have wound up in grocery store freezers over the past 20 years. Prosecutors, however, could not prove the juice was actually contaminated, only that it had been transferred from defective containers to new cartons.

Besides Lee’s conviction and fine, Mid-Florida Freezer Warehouses itself was previously put on probation for three years and ordered to pay a total $1.3 million in fines and special court assessments The company must also pay $1.5 million to keep it from being seized by the government. Lee guaranteed the money would be paid.

He had tried to sell the company earlier in the year to Chesapeake Logistics Inc. of Tampa, FL but the $30 million deal collapsed over price differences. Port Canaveral officials say Mid-Florida Freezer has been a model tenant at the Brevard County facility.

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