New evidence, including documents and an audiotape that appears to implicate an influence-peddling Washington, D.C. law firm, the US Department of Justice's Joel Klein and a select committee of Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) directors involved in the 1996 price-fixing plea agreement by the "Supermarkup to the World" is slated to be presented to US District Court Judge Ruben Castillo in Chicago.
It was in 1996 in Judge Castillo's court that ADM pled guilty to price fixing in the world lysine feed additive market and paid a $100 million fine and later in 1999 saw three of its executives convicted of price fixing, fined and sent to jail.
The new evidence being presented to the court relates to comments made at an April 18, 1999, town meeting on "Concentration And Monopoly In Agriculture" held in St. Paul, Minn.. Hosting the event were Senators Paul Wellstone (DFL-Minn.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa, and Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). Special guests included Klein, Assistant US Attorney General for the Antitrust Division, and Michael Dunn, Assistant Secretary of the USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs, Packers & Stockyards Programs. In attendance were over 800 farmers and farm groups from numerous surrounding states.
Klein was asked at the meeting if he was the person who supervised and signed off on the ADM plea agreement, and he confirmed that he was. He was also asked how the Justice Department calculated the enormity of such a fine, and he gave an explanation.
Dunn was asked why the USDA would let ADM keep its contracts worth $85 million and, on the other hand, fine ADM only $100 million. Dunn replied that ADM wanted to keep this business, and this was part of the plea agreement. Dunn not only made it known that Klein was involved in the decision, but went into detail on how this deal was done with the Justice Department concerning ADM being allowed to keep USDA business.
Yet, the plea agreement signed Oct. 15, 1996, makes no mention of this part of the deal.
There is supposed to be an automatic three-year disbarment from government contracts when a company is convicted or pleads guilty to a criminal offense. During this same month that the Justice Department signed off on the ADM plea agreement Sun-Diamond Growers of California was automatically disbarred for three years after they were convicted of illegal gratuities to former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy and illegal campaign contributions made to Espy's brother. The ban included all of Sun-Diamond's cooperatives and dozens of its top executives.
On Dec. 17, 1996, Bloomberg News' Washington Bureau reporter Roger Runningen, in an article titled "ADM's $83.5 Million in USDA at Risk in Review," quoted Clayton Yuetter, former Agriculture Secretary under Presidents Reagan and Bush and now a member of the ConAgra Corp. board of directors, "It seems to me that it would be very difficult for the USDA not to move to disqualify the company from new government business. The department would get criticism from a lot of sources if it, in essence, let ADM off the hook."
Bob Bergland, Secretary of Agriculture under President Carter, said in the same article, "Some people will argue, I suppose, that ADM is too big to kick out, but when it comes to criminal charges, there's no deals to be made." All the time the deal between the Justice Department and the USDA was already agreed upon.
Again on Jan. 17, 1997, Runningen reported that "ADM Keeps USDA Business, Avoids Ban in Agreement." The article noted that "Under the five-point agreement ADM must establish a corporate code of conduct, develop antitrust guidelines, distribute guidelines to sales employees, certify that ethics guidelines will be obeyed, and conduct ethics and antitrust training seminars annually."
Grant Buntrock, head of the USDA's Farm Service Agency, stated that the USDA is "implementing this agreement to fully protect the public interest." Gary Spratling, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the criminal enforcement section of the anti-trust division stated at a press conference in Washington DC on Oct. 15, 1996, that "It's not for the Department of Justice to comment on the governance matters of ADM."
Critics of the entire DofJ and USDA "arrangement" point out that although the Department of Justice felt it was inappropriate for it to comment, they certainly did not feel their involvement with the USDA in corporate governance matters at ADM was appropriate when they reached the aforementioned agreement.
On Oct. 15, 1996, Steven R. Mills, comptroller at ADM, stood before Judge Castillo under oath and, according to people familiar with the plea agreement, told the court that the plea the DofJ and ADM had agreed upon in private was the same one that was being presented in court. Standing with Mills was Aubrey M. Daniel III, of the Williams & Connolly law firm, who represented ADM in negotiations with the Justice Department and must have known that the plea agreement did not reveal the truth of the agreement between the DofJ and USDA.
Williams & Connolly also represented President Bill Clinton at his impeachment trial before the US Senate and is now representing FOX Television in its legal battle with Florida reporters Jane Akre and Steve Wilson after they were fired for refusing to lie, distort and slant an on-the-air report on the use and dangers of rBGH.
In presenting this requested new evidence of the details in the plea agreement to Judge Castillo, ADM Shareholders Watch Committee's David Hoech notes that in August of 1996 "a prominent lawyer from Washington D.C. told me that this case involves a bigger coverup than Watergate," involving the Department of Justice, FBI, USDA, CIA, FDA and the EPA, among others. "This same person also told me that the only way the truth will ever have a chance of coming out is if a federal judge will stand up against the Justice Department's coverup."
Hoech also pointed out that in August this year Kurt Eichenwald, a writer for the New York Times, "asked me for a copy of a letter I received from Anne K. Bingaman who in 1996 was the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the anti-trust division. The letter appeared to be from Bingaman but was signed by Joel Klein."
Hoech further related:
"When Joel Klein declined to be interviewed by James B. Lieber the author of Rats In The Grain, he stated, 'I really didn't have very much to do with it.' Klein did the deal, and Eichenwald knows this is true, but never even mentioned Klein in his book, The Informant."
An annual Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, conducted by Iowa State University Extension rural sociologist Paul Lasley reveals that only 24% of the state's farmers said they think their quality of life will improve in the next five years, while 13% expected their neighbors' lives to improve as only about one of eight Iowa farmers thinks the overall farm economy will improve in the next five years -- the lowest rate of optimism in 18 years.
"I think in general it's a shroud of uncertainty and concern that farm prices and the farm economy continue to languish behind the general economy," Lasley told the Associated Press. A number of issues, most of them beyond the control of farm families, contribute to the pessimism, including low commodity prices, rising interest rates and fuel costs, Lasley added.
Just 12% said they think the farm economy will get better while 64% said the economy will get worse, and 24% expect it to stay about the same. Those numbers are just slightly higher than during the farm debt crisis in 1986.
Questionnaires were sent to 4,977 Iowa farmers in February, with 61% responding. The figures represent the latest in a downward trend in optimism, despite peaks in 1988 and 1996, Lasley said.
Some of the respondents wrote comments on the questionnaires to highlight the grim situation. "Individual owner-operators will become extinct very shortly without prompt and favorable government action," a Story County farmer wrote.
John Whitaker, president of the Iowa Farmers Union, said government subsidies farmers receive in bad times are helpful, but farmers would prefer not having to use them. "Farmers would a lot rather have money from the marketplace and not the mailbox," he said.
In addition to low commodity prices, Whitaker said farmers are dissatisfied with the "Freedom to Farm" Act, which he calls a failed federal policy, and the large corporate agribusinesses, which farmers perceive as controlling certain segments of the market.
Whitaker is raising two sons, ages 17 and 15, on his farm between Hillsboro and Stockport in southeast Iowa. He said farm life is in their blood, and they both intend to become farmers. What could deter them and others, he said, is not the pessimism, but the lack of profit. "When kids see they can't make a living, they may love it, but they'll distance themselves from it in their first job, and they'll never go back,"
According to the US Department of Agriculture, the proportion of farmers age 55 and over has risen from 37% in 1954 to 61% in 1997. The average Iowa farmer is now 52.4 years old, Lasley notes.
Michael Kiernan, spokesman for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge, said the Iowa Poll numbers reflect a nationwide trend that can be remedied only by a new national farm policy. The drought and low commodity prices a year ago contribute to that, Kiernan said, including the lowest corn prices in more than a decade, the lowest soybean prices in 27 years and the lowest hog prices since the Great Depression.
"We must move beyond the annual damage control to a policy that gives farmers the tools they need to thrive, not just basically survive from disaster to disaster," Kiernan said.
Judge John Lineberger has ruled that ConAgra Inc., the nation's second largest food manufacturer, violated the Arkansas Trade Secrets Act in taking and incorporating Tyson Foods' confidential chicken feed nutrient profile. Tyson Foods, the nation's largest poultry processor, said ConAgra will pay $20.1 million as part of the judge's ruling.
In April, ConAgra, based in Omaha, Neb., maintained that the formula was not a trade secret because its components could be determined by chemical engineers, and asked a Washington County, Ark., judge to dismiss the case.
Tyson sued ConAgra last August, saying the food giant had exploited proprietary information by hiring four Tyson executives. In January, Lineberger barred ConAgra from using three of the executives in poultry positions for one year. The remaining portion of the case involves how ConAgra came into possession of Tyson's feed formula.
The executives were dropped from the lawsuit, Dow Jones Newswires reported, and remain involved only as ConAgra employees.
A spokeswoman from ConAgra said the company is "reviewing its options," regarding Judge Lineberger's ruling in favor of Tyson Foods.
Bounty payments are being offered for pro-Microsoft letters and calls, the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire reports.
Republican Ralph Reed's lobbying firm coordinates a network of public-relations and lobbying partners that generates grass-roots comments for cash. Payments are for letters, calls and visits to lawmakers and policy makers. An e-mail offers sample letters opposing a Microsoft breakup.
A letter to a member of Congress from a mayor or local Republican Party official is worth $200, the guidelines say. A "premier" letter or visit by a fund-raiser known to the lawmaker or a family member can be worth up to $450 apiece. An op-ed piece in local papers fetches $500.
Microsoft says, "Our competitors are attacking us, and it's no secret we're working to assure our supporters are heard."
A.V. Krebs operates the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project, P.O. Box 2201, Everett, Washington 98203-0201; email email@example.com; web www.ea1.com/CARP/