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ADM Fires Exec Involved in Price-Fixing Inquiry : Termination: Company accuses him of stealing $2.5 million while he was helping the Justice Department with its investigation.

August 08, 1995|From Associated Press

DECATUR, Ill. — A senior Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. executive who went undercover for a government investigation into possible price fixing by leading food processors was fired Monday over allegations that he stole at least $2.5 million from the company.

ADM referred the case last week to the Justice Department, which has opened a preliminary criminal investigation, spokesman John Russell said in Washington.

The firing is the latest twist in the relationship of ADM, the nation's largest grain processor, and Mark Whitacre, a young executive once touted as its future president.

Whitacre, 38, who headed ADM's BioProducts division, served as a government informant for three years, using tiny video cameras and tape recorders to record private meetings between ADM and grain industry competitors in the United States and abroad.

ADM said in a prepared statement that Whitacre "was terminated, for cause, including the theft of at least $2.5 million from the company at a time when he was acting as an undercover agent for the United States government."

ADM did not elaborate on the theft claim. Neither Whitacre nor his attorney, James Epstein, returned phone messages seeking comment on the dismissal or on ADM's allegations. Epstein had predicted his client would be fired.

Whitacre's firing was mentioned at the bottom of a news release that disclosed that Brian Peterson would succeed him as president of the BioProducts division. Company officials refused to comment further.

Whitacre has been barred from the company's headquarters in Decatur since his role as an informant was made public July 10. A week later, however, ADM told Wall Street analysts that Whitacre was still on the payroll.

Wall Street appeared to shrug off the dismissal news Monday. ADM stock closed unchanged at $16.125 a share. The stock has fallen from $21 earlier this year. ADM and three other U.S. grain processors have said they are targets of a federal investigation into possible price fixing in the markets for citric acid, corn syrup and lysine, an amino acid used to speed growth in swine and poultry.

The Justice Department has so far refused to comment on the investigation or say which companies are its targets. No charges have been filed against ADM or processors Staley Manufacturing Co. of Decatur; CPC International Inc. of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., and Cargill Inc. of Minnetonka, Minn.

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