Meat Industry INSIGHTS Newsletter

970754 Former USDA Sec'y Espy Target of Criminal Grand Jury

July 22, 1997

Former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy has been informed by an independent counsel that he is a target of a criminal grand jury investigation, a source close to the probe said today.

The grand jury also is targeting poultry giant Tyson Foods Inc., in its investigation into whether Tyson tried to use football tickets and free air fare to influence Espy while he was in President Clinton's Cabinet. Espy resigned in December 1994.

Tyson Foods acknowledged last month that it has been told it is a target in the nearly three-year investigation by independent counsel Donald C. Smaltz.

A source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed a report by The Washington Times that Espy also received a letter several weeks ago notifying him that he is a target of the investigation.

Espy's attorney, Reid Weingarten, was out of the country and unavailable for comment.

Smaltz has spent about $9 million to investigate whether Espy violated the law by accepting tickets from Tyson for a Dallas Cowboys play-off game and $1,009 in air fare from the company for his girlfriend, Patricia Dempsey.

Investigators say Tyson Foundation Inc. also provided Ms. Dempsey a $1,200 scholarship.

Tyson Foods has branded Smaltz's investigation a "misguided and senseless expenditure of funds by an unrestrained and imprudent independent counsel." It said it was only acting with "common hospitality."

Espy has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged. He has repaid Tyson and other agribusinesses that gave him sports tickets, gifts and travel reimbursements.

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