Shelley Harrison-Valdivia and brother Brent Harrison own Al Harrison Company Distributors Inc., Nogales, Ariz.
Shelley Harrison-Valdivia and brother Brent Harrison own Al Harrison Company Distributors Inc., Nogales, Ariz.

(UPDATED COVERAGE, Jan. 16) A U.S. Department of Agriculture administrative action against Al Harrison Co. Distributors Inc. for almost $700,000 in unpaid produce bills covered by the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act is “out of date” according to the company’s president.

Brent Harrison, president, said the notice from the Agricultural Marketing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding $690,537 owed to a dozen produce suppliers does not accurately reflect the status of accounts at the third-generation company in Nogales, Ariz. Shelley Harrison-Valdivia owns the company with her brother Brent.

"The AMS audit was six months ago and to date, their figure is off,"Brent Harrison said Jan. 16.

In addition, the Jan. 14 news release from the AMS states the company owes four growers a combined $87,600 in PACA claims for failing to pay for produce from September 2012 through April 2013 when it was acting as a grower agent. The larger amount owed to suppliers includes transactions from April 2012 through April 2013.

“There wasn’t a complaint against us. They (AMS) just came in on their own," Harrison said. "The few guys we owe are our friends and they are working with us.”

USDA public affairs manager Gwen Sparks, however, said the department did receive a complaint against the company. But specific details about such complaints are not made public during an ongoing case, Sparks said.

“A written complaint was received by the PACA office,” Sparks said Jan. 15. “When that happens we have to investigate. We did our due diligence and an administrative action was taken.”

Federal law gives the company 20 days to request a hearing on the action, Sparks said. A hearing would trigger further federal review and possibly show that payments have been made. Hearing outcomes depend on specific facts of each case, Sparks said.

If the company does not request a hearing, the administrative action will go forward. As principals of the company, the Harrisons could be barred from working for or affiliated with any PACA licensee for a year and their company could be barred from operating in the industry for two years.

Harrison said the company, known best for its watermelon program, is operating as usual and paying its debts. The company markets under the brands Si Senor, Harrison Fresh, Sweet Eden and AHC.

Two Federal Court cases filed against the company involve failure to pay for seeds and nursery plants, following an aborted entry into the bell pepper and cucumber growing arena.

A federal judge in Arizona entered a $72,450 judgment for Sierra Seed International, Sonora, Mexico, against Al Harrison Co. in July 2013 because the company “did not file a timely response” concerning the claim. However, the judge did not award the seed company the interest or legal expenses it requested.

Another case, filed in Federal Court in San Jose, Calif., on Dec. 10, seeks payment of more than $266,000 for nursery plants from Headstart Nursery Inc., Gilroy, Calif. The case states that the nursery specifically planted Sakata watermelon seeds, grew seedlings and delivered them at to Al Harrison Co. Distributors.

A case management conference in the nursery case is set for April 1.