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Rats in the Grain: The Dirty Tricks and Trials of Archer Daniels Midland

By James B. Lieber>

Those who wanted more than the media gave them about the ADM price-fixing scandal and trials can get a full account in this book.

418 pages
Four Walls Eight Windows (2000)

Reviewed by: Eric Howard
If top executives at a large and highly influential corporation commit crimes, will they do time? This book tells the story of how Mick Andreas and Terry Wilson, executives of the Archer Daniels Midland Corporation, were caught and convicted of criminal price-fixing charges. Various other top company officials, including Sidney Hulse, Marty Allsion, and Reinhard Richter, made plea bargains. The fallout from ADM's price-fixing activities also included employment lawsuits, a shareholder lawsuit and board room shakeup, and a $25 million settlement of lawsuits stemming from the fixing of the market in lysine. At the center of the storm was a young, mercurial executive named Mark Whitacre, whose clandestine audiotapes and self-destructive thievery gave the FBI almost more than it could handle.

Without Whitacre, it appears that the case would never have happened. According to the author, he "had no perceptible economic needs." The book devotes many pages to the examination of the informant's complex character and motivations. Another multifaceted personality, ADM's CEO and chairman Dwayne Andreas (father of Mick), looms large in the book. His company bore the stamp of his personality, especially at its top ranks, and his well-known financial ruthlessness and penchant for operating behind the scenes contributed, some argued, to the scandal.

Rats in the Grain follows a rather predictable but nonetheless fascinating path as 1) the conspirators discover just how caught they are and try various means, few of them noble, of dealing with the consequences and 2) those not in the net try to restore the company's reputation. The book's chief fascination is its meticulous accounts of how things get done in the real world, from investigations and trials to corporate infighting.'

In the book's preface, Lieber answers the question of why such a major scandal received so little attention from the media. First, it was a complex case involving lysine (not drugs or guns) and executives (not serial killers). Second, the case had no hero; the whistle blower, Whitacre, was caught lying and embezzling money from the company. And third, as an unnamed party at Court TV explained, the case was "'not slutty enough.'" Perhaps, but one appendix lists the 5 presidential candidates, 91 Senate candidates, and four pages of House candidates who received a total of roughly $700,000 in direct contributions (soft money is covered in another appendix) from the ADM political action committee from 1993 to 1999; in view of ADM's return on the investment, in terms of legislative breaks, a word like "slutty" (or some other term for "cheap date") might actually be appropriate. Even more so when one considers that despite Dwayne Andreas's habit of contributing to both Democrats and Republicans, his company nevertheless found itself subject to bureaucratic interference—in the form of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Eric Howard is associate editor of Los Angeles Lawyer.