The Year ('97) in Corporate Crime
Jim Lehrer's Fallen Angel
The Archer Daniels Midland company, super-briber to the political world, was involved in the most publicized corporate crime of 1996. Caught in a sting by Justice Department investigators, A.D.M., the planet's largest grain processor, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to fix prices for two products: lysine, a feed supplement for livestock, and citric acid, used in soft drinks and detergents. A.D.M., which was fined $100 million, and its Asian co-conspirators also agreed to pay more than $100 million to settle civil lawsuits brought by shareholders and customers. More lawsuits lie ahead.
Ironically, Archer Daniels' stock price actually jumped, because Wall Street judged the settlements and fines to be bargains. And why not? After all, analysts figure that A.D.M. cheated its lysine customers alone out of more than $170 million. Although the $100 million fine is seven times larger than the largest antitrust penalty ever before levied by the Justice Department, it's (you'll pardon the expression) chicken feed for A.D.M., which in the last fiscal year had revenues of $13.6 billion from its agricultural products, most of which are heavily subsidized by the U.S. taxpayer.
Along with a bargain fine, Archer Daniels got a sweetheart deal: In exchange for pleading guilty and promising to help the Justice Department in its expanding investigation, A.D.M. was granted immunity against charges of price-fixing in the sale of high-fructose corn syrup, which, along with the corn-derived fuel ethanol, is A.D.M.'s leading product.
Also part of the deal was Justice's promise that its investigators wouldn't even bother to interview Dwayne Andreas, 78, who as chairman and chief executive has for decades treated A.D.M. as his personal fiefdom. His 47-year-old son, executive vice president and former heir apparent Michael Andreas, having been secretly taped in a price-fixing conversation with an Asian "competitor," was indicted for conspiracy; at the very least, his career at A.D.M. is over. But old man Andreas once again proved himself to be a masterful escape artist. Could this talent possibly be explained by the more than $4 million he and his family and A.D.M. have given to Washington politicians since the seventies, most notably Kansas Republican Bob Dole (in return for billions of dollars in subsidies)? It also didn't hurt the elder Andreas's chances of getting special treatment that he personally donated $155,000 to the Democratic Party in 1993 and $100,000 in 1994, and was co-chairman of a dinner that raised $3.5 million for Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992.
Over the years his generosity has sometimes been suspect. He was acquitted of giving Hubert Humphrey an illegal $100,000 contribution in 1968; he slipped a thousand $100 bills into the Nixon White House in 1972, the year in which the term "money-laundering" entered the nation's vocabulary; and in that same season, a $25,000 check from Andreas somehow sneaked into the bank account of a Watergate burglar. But the old man has never tripped badly enough to earn a criminal record--except in 1993, when he and his wife paid an $8,000 fine for exceeding federal limits on political contributions.
Considering that it operates in one of the world's most piratical industries, A.D.M. has, like Andreas himself, led a charmed life, suffering only a couple of legal wounds: a 1978 conviction for fixing prices on grain sold to the Food for Peace program and a no-contest plea in 1976 to the charge of short-weighting and misgrading corn for export.