WASHINGTON (FNS) -- Arkansas poultry producer Tyson Foods Inc. will pay $6 million to the federal government as part of a plea agreement settling charges it made illegal gifts to former U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy.
Espy goes to trial March 30 on 35 counts of taking gratuities from Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods and other companies he regulated as USDA chief from 1992 to 1994.
Tyson Foods pleaded guilty Dec. 29 to one count of making $12,000 in illegal gifts to Espy, including four tickets to President Clinton's inaugural dinner in January 1993, tickets to a Dallas Cowboys-Green Bay Packers football playoff game and a Tyson Foundation scholarship worth $1,200 to Patricia Dempsey, Espy's girlfriend.
As part of a plea agreement, Tyson agreed to create ethics safeguards in dealing with the federal government in return for being able to continue selling millions of dollars in food a year to the Defense Department and other agencies. Company chairman Don Tyson and his son John Tyson were granted immunity from prosecution for agreeing to testify before a grand jury investigating Espy.
Tyson's $6 million covers $4 million in penalties and $2 million to help cover costs of the government's investigation.
In a statement, Tyson said it wants to move beyond the investigation. "Tyson looks forward to having this long, costly, distracting matter behind us, and can now enter the New Year with strong optimism that all of our energy and resources can be focused on our ultimate goal of being the No. 1 food company in the world."
Besides Tyson, Sun-Diamond Growers of California was fined $1.5 million and given five years probation for making and condoning gifts to Espy.
Crop Growers Corp., a crop insurance firm, was also convicted as part of the government's Espy graft inquiry.
In a separate case, Sun-Diamond lobbyist Richard Douglas is awaiting sentencing for giving Espy luggage, tickets to the 1993 U.S. Open tennis tournament and meals to Espy and his girlfriend.
Crop Growers, Overland Park, Kansas, has paid $2 million in fines for keeping false records that disguised $46,000 in illegal campaign contributions to Espy's brother Henry's failed U.S. House campaign.