(Feb. 4, 3:15 p.m.) Ag-Mart Inc., which does business as Santa Sweets Inc., plans to fight New Jersey allegations that it misused pesticides and jeopardized the health of its workers.

In a Jan. 29 enforcement action, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection fined Plant City, Fla.-based Ag-Mart $931,000 in what the agency called an unprecedented penalty for hundreds of alleged violations at Ag-Mart's Cedarville, N.J., farms and packinghouses.

"Ag-Mart has repeatedly shown a stunning disregard of laws and regulations intended to protect the workers who harvest their tomatoes, the people who consume them and New Jersey's environment," agency commissioner Mark Mauriello said in a statement. "Ag-Mart's pesticide violations are the most serious DEP inspectors have ever uncovered. We have imposed a record-high penalty not only to hold Ag-Mart accountable for their failure, but to make sure it doesn't happen again."

John O'Riordan, a lawyer representing Ag-Mart, said $780,000 of the fine involves paperwork on field spray tickets. He said agency inspectors in 2003 -- a few years before the agency claims Ag-Mart violated pesticide handling rules 2005-07 -- found nothing wrong with the grower-shipper's recordkeeping.

"It's hard for me to understand how this is a stunning violation of the law," O'Riordan said. "They didn't say anything about this before. To come out with those kinds of inflammatory statements is unfortunate and is a gross accusation. We are going to vigorously challenge this and tackle every allegation."

O'Riordan said Ag-Mart successfully challenged similar accusations in other states. Ag-Mart had all allegations dismissed in a 2005 Florida case and had the majority of allegations removed in a 2006 North Carolina case. A hearing on the remaining allegations is pending before the North Carolina environmental board, O'Riordan said.

Ag-Mart is owned by Joseph Procacci, who also owns the Philadelphia-based Procacci Bros. Sales Corp.