Jason Vale was in big trouble. For nearly two hours he'd been trapped in a windowless conference room in the U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn. A government lawyer was grilling Vale, 29, about his Internet-based apricot seed business, which he operated from his home in Queens, New York. It was April 2000, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had been after Vale's company, Christian Brothers Contracting Corporation, since 1997, when they sent inspectors to his home.
It was just a deposition, but Vale felt like he was already on trial. He really needed to use the bathroom, but his interrogator—a woman in her mid-twenties—wouldn't let up.
"How would you characterize your feeling, your religious beliefs in relation to the work that you do?" asked Allison Harnisch, a trial lawyer with the Department of Justice's Office of Consumer Litigation.
Vale wasn't certain where she was going with the question, but he lurched into his standard answer about how Genesis 1:29 contained a prescription for life without cancer:
Then God said, "I now give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the entire earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food."
There are way too many lawyers in this room, Vale thought. Besides Assistant U.S. Attorney Harnisch, there was Vale's lawyer, another attorney from the Department of Justice, and one from the FDA. Vale was just an online entrepreneur, filling orders in his basement ...