Judge considers unsealing Archer Daniels Midland file Company tries to keep lid on documents, tapes in federal price-fixing case

Legal affairs

September 09, 1997|By BLOOMBERG NEWS

CHICAGO -- A federal judge said yesterday that she will consider a request by the New York Times to unseal the entire court file in the federal government's price-fixing case against former executives of Archer Daniels Midland Co.

Attorneys for former Archer Daniels Vice Chairman Michael Andreas and former division president Terrance S. Wilson want to keep certain documents and undercover tape recordings of their clients sealed.

The attorneys hope to convince Judge Blanche Manning of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois that the evidence is inadmissible.

Former Archer Daniels executive Mark Whitacre made the recordings as an FBI mole during the four-year investigation of the company's role in fixing the price of lysine, an animal-feed additive, and citric acid. Scores of recordings were made from November 1992 to mid-1995.

At a hearing yesterday in Chicago, Manning gave the defense attorneys until Sept. 29 to file their opposition to the Times' Sept. 4 request. Scott Lassar, first assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago, said the government will not oppose the newspaper's attempt to open the files.

The Chicago Tribune published yesterday what it said was information from sealed court documents that contain a defense motion to suppress the tapes and quotes from FBI files concerning Whitacre. The newspaper also published some of the information on its Internet Web site.

The documents state, according to the Tribune story, that Whitacre wanted to withdraw less than two weeks into the investigation. The documents say that taping colleagues caused Whitacre to become distraught and consider suicide, the Tribune reported.

Also pending before Manning are defense motions that ask for internal FBI records and guidelines governing its probe.

Attorneys for Andreas and Wilson hope to prove that the probe of the agricultural products giant was at best mishandled and possibly even an act of revenge by government investigators.

The attorneys say the investigation is suspect because the FBI gave Whitacre unprecedented free rein and because he was later indicted for allegedly embezzling $9 million.

In October, Archer Daniels pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a record $100 million fine to settle charges it colluded with rivals to fix lysine and citric acid prices and sales levels. Since then, foreign companies and their officers have pleaded guilty and agreed to pay hefty fines, and Archer Daniels has settled a number of civil lawsuits alleging price fixing.

Whitacre, Andreas and Wilson have pleaded not guilty to the price-fixing charges and are scheduled to stand trial May 1.

On the federal embezzlement charges, Whitacre Whitacre said Archer Daniels approved payments as off-the-book money for him and others.

Pub Date: 9/09/97

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