Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Federal Probe Targets Adm World's Supermarket under Scrutiny in Price Fixing Inquiry

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Federal Probe Targets Adm World's Supermarket under Scrutiny in Price Fixing Inquiry

Article excerpt

IT SMELLS LIKE a company town. Feels like one, too.

Archer Daniels Midland Co. will turn your soybeans into vegetable burgers, make sweetener out of your corn, even offer you 6.3 percent on a CD at company-owned Hickory Point Bank.

With its many food ingredients, ADM may indeed be a supermarket to the world, as its TV ads boast. Here it is known as an anchor in a central Illinois city where smokestacks dominate the landscape.

"This place runs this town," says a hard-hat worker, finding scant shade near an employee parking lot. "That's the way they like it."

Now, Decatur's patron is squirming. Federal prosecutors recently demanded documents on ADM products, including corn syrup, a staple in soft drinks, chewing gum and numerous goods that line grocery shelves.

A senior executive, Mark Whitacre, reportedly went undercover in 1992, armed with recording devices. The investigation, which appears to be centered on alleged price-fixing, also includes Decatur's A.E. Staley Manufacturing Co. and at least two other major processors.

Suddenly, ADM - and the hometown - are on the defensive.

"We're small-town Midwest. Sure we'd be shocked," said Phil Robertson, 47, who closed a library book to talk about the best-known corporate resident. "If we were in New York City, this would be nothing."

ADM employs more than 2,500 people in Decatur and also owns an estimated 7 percent stake in Staley's British parent, Tate & Lyle PLC. It is a Fortune 500 company that had profit last year of $484 million on sales of $1.13 billion.

While local employers such as Caterpillar Inc. and Staley have cut payrolls, ADM has added workers. "It's a real growth story," says former Mayor Erik Brechnitz.

There's nothing attractive about the vast industrial campus on the city's northeast side, with its enormous tanks, its network of pipes, its rail yards, its silos. …

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