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

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

James B. Lieber. Four Walls Eight Windows, $26 (418pp) ISBN 978-1-56858-142-2

Agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland, which bills itself as ""supermarket to the world,"" had its wholesome image tarnished in 1998 when a federal trial in Chicago found two of its top executives guilty of fixing prices with the firm's competitors; each got two years in prison. The FBI informant who put them there, Mark Whitacre, former president of ADM's bioproducts division, secretly made audio and video tapes of ADM meetings. According to Whitacre, ADM's bizarre unofficial motto was: ""The competitor is our friend and the customer is our enemy."" Thanks to Whitacre, ADM in 1996 agreed to pay a record antitrust fine of $100 million for price-fixing schemes that cost consumers much more than inflated prices for soft drinks, detergents, poultry and other products. Amazingly, Whitacre, who himself pleaded guilty in 1997 to money laundering and tax fraud, got a far more severe penalty--nine years in prison--than the corporate crooks he exposed. In this thoroughgoing, devastating expos , Lieber (Friendly Takeover) suggests one reason for this disparity may be that ADM, a premier beneficiary of federal subsidies and tax loopholes, is a politically well-connected behemoth whose law firm had unbridled influence at the Justice Department. The book's centerpiece, a labyrinthine re-creation of the 1998 trial, includes testimony alleging that ADM used prostitutes to gather information on competitors, that it set up phony trade associations as camouflage and that it stole technology by bribing rival companies' employees. Lieber meticulously serves up a seamy stew of sex, lies and videotape, revealing corruption that taints an entire industry. Photos include stop-action shots from the FBI tapes. (Aug.)