11:05 PM PDT on Thursday, March 17, 2011

By BRIAN ROKOS
The Press-Enterprise

Former Corona City Councilman and Nature’s Recipe dog food founder Jeff Bennett pleaded guilty Thursday to making a false statement to FBI agents, court documents say.

Bennett, 57, admitted in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles that he falsely claimed to the agents that Earth Elements, the company that developed Nature’s Recipe, had been inactive since the dog food line was sold in 1996 to H.J. Heinz Co., a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice said.

In fact, the release said, Earth Elements received millions of dollars in 2002 and 2003 from lawsuits that had been filed before the sale of Nature’s Recipe.

He also admitted that contrary to statements made in 2009 to FBI agents, that Earth Elements had not filed tax returns in 2002 and 2003.

“I made a false statement. I thought my tax returns were filed; they were not,” Bennett said Thursday outside his Corona home. “So I have to own up to it.” Bennett said his accountant was supposed to file the returns but did not.

The plea agreement prohibits Bennett from contesting the facts agreed upon, but it also states that “Defendant maintains that these allegations are false and believes that he would be able to disprove them at trial.”

Bennett served three terms on the City Council. He lost a bid for re-election in 2004. Bennett said henow consults on property issues and governmental affairs. He also is president of Cool Tube, a Corona company that makes refrigeration equipment.

As part of his plea agreement, Bennett agreed to file correct tax returns for Earth Elements and pay any amount due.

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