Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Federal Inquiry Sifts Links between Espy, Tyson Foods

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Federal Inquiry Sifts Links between Espy, Tyson Foods

Article excerpt

The Justice Department has been investigating whether Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy illegally accepted free travel and gifts from an Arkansas poultry processor, officials said Thursday.

They said Espy has been questioned by FBI agents and lawyers from the Justice Department's public integrity unit, which handles corruption cases involving government officials.

The investigation involves allegations that Espy accepted free travel, tickets to sporting events, including football playoff games, and other gifts from Arkansas-based Tyson Foods Inc., the country's biggest poultry processor, which has longstanding ties to President Bill Clinton.

Espy declined to comment on the investigation, but his department released a statement saying he had "cooperated fully and believes there will be a positive outcome."

A Justice Department spokesman, Carl Stern, was asked whether the department was nearing a decision to wrap up the investigation without filing charges. He responded, "It's nearing a decision on whether to close."

Another source said Justice Department lawyers wanted to close the case without prosecution, because they believe the only questionable items had a very small dollar value. This source said the Justice Department lawyers were likely to overrule the FBI, which wanted to pursue reports that some documents might have been shredded.

The FBI investigation was triggered by the referral from the Agriculture Department's inspector general following a story March 17 in The Wall Street Journal that suggested that Espy had given Tyson "gentle treatment" because of its ties to Clinton.

One of Espy's trips being checked out was a visit in May 1993 to Mississippi, where he gave two commencement addresses, and to Arkansas, where he spent the night as a guest of the Arkansas Poultry Federation and spoke to farm groups at a conference center owned by Tyson Foods.

Travel records obtained by The Associated Press show that Espy took private charters on several legs of that trip, including the flight back to Washington. …

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