The British firm Hanson, the world's No. 1 producer of crushed rock for the construction industry, denied on Monday that it stole sand from San Francisco Bay -- days after being sued for $200 million by California over sand dredging royalties.
The company defrauded the state by mining outside leased areas, underreporting the amount of sand taken and making prices appear low to avoid royalty payments, according to a claim filed Friday by California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer. Hanson said it would fight the suit.
"We would never condone the practices alluded to by the attorney general in any of our operations," said Justin Read, a Hanson spokesman. "The issue is one of lease interpretation, not of fraud or deception."
California leases sandbanks in San Francisco Bay, near the former Alcatraz penal colony, to Hanson and other mining outfits, which dredge sand and sell it to builders. The U.S. is the company's largest market, with sales of $3.1 billion last year.