Archer Daniels Midland

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I finished reading a journalistic account of the price-fixing scandal at Archer Daniels Midland in the nineties: The Informant by Kurt Eichenwald, a New York Times reporter.  (2000) I found the book well written, a real page-turner.  The scope of the investigation led to prison time for principals and large government fines for ADM. 

How that corporation fought the charges and the corruption within the ranks of executives reflected the big money influence of that entity all the way into the inner workings of Washington, DC.  How the FBI and other government agencies built their case, piece by piece, revealed the determination of hardworking agents and prosecutors.   Their labors were fraught with frustration, setbacks, and small victories that eventually led to the downfall of key corporate players.  

It is estimated that the costs to the public of price-fixing schemes among various fertilizer, feed and food production corporations runs to the tens of billions for consumers each year.  The Sherman Anti-Trust Law of 1902 remains the tool to fight such abuses.

The most fascinating account is that of the whistle-blower, one Mark Whitaker.  He claimed he know of wrong doing and was angry but his motives were gradually shown to be a scheme he selfishly figured would lead to the ouster of the Andreas family, principal stockholders and top managers of the company.  He believed it would lead to his ascension to the leadership of ADM.  He became a government witness after participating widely both in price-fixing and a maze of other embezzlement and money-laundering schemes that enriched him.  He continued in these illegal activities while audio taping meetings with other conspirators and setting up meetings that the FBI videotaped.  The agents did not learn of his duplicity until well into the case.   Eventually, although he did get credit for his cooperation and assistance, he was sent to Federal Prison because of his lies.

This one person, on the surface a talented technician and executive operating at a very high level of expertise and of very privileged status, proved to be a nemesis to his FBI handlers, a sociopathic and/or manic-depressive personality whose considerable energy and machinations did great harm to many, including himself. How could such a gifted and multi-talented man, who seemed to have everything, let his greed and ambition destroy so much?  Looking over the patterns of his behavior he could be at once charming, sensitive, misleading, cunning, paranoid, aggressive, clever, generous and secretive.  His story changed from day to day.  He even tried to incriminate his handlers.  I found him an enigma.  I’m sure his fellow defendants, the FBI and the prosecutors would agree.

There are very convincing con artists, as the newspapers tell daily.  Lately, all the financial failures and scandals illuminate this fact.  Why do such persons like Madoff, the guy out on the Mainline who has been in the news, ($150 million vanished), the big execs who continued to extend golden parachutes with our money, and so many more of the big shots, get caught so inexorably naked and disgraced?  It’s almost as though they desire to ruin others and themselves.   And it’s not just these types.  They’re found at all levels.  As a child I remember stealing my friend’s marbles.  I found the sensation very pleasing but eventually I felt ashamed and returned them.   I don’t think I’d even have the energy to run even one scam, like Mr. Whitaker.   I believe there are some who are constitutionally incapable of honesty or insight.  Whitaker was delusional and as such, blind in his own concerns.  It scares me that there are thousands like him running about. 

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