The Informant (book)

The Informant (book)

infobox Book |
name = The Informant
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption =
author = Kurt Eichenwald
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
subject = Lysine price-fixing conspiracy
genre =
publisher = Random House (hardback)
Broadway Books (paperbacks)
pub_date =
release_date = 2000
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages = 624 (hardback)
656 (trade paperback and movie tie-in edition)
isbn = 978-0-7679-0326-4
oclc =
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"The Informant" is a nonfiction thriller book written by journalist Kurt Eichenwald and published in 2000 by Random House.cite news |last=Webber |first=Susan |title=Tale of the Tapes |work=The Daily Deal |publisher=Aurora Advisors, Inc. |date=2000-09-25 |url= |accessdate=2008-10-02] It documents the mid-1990s lysine price-fixing conspiracy case and the involvement of Archer Daniels Midland executive Mark Whitacre.__TOC__-

Plot summary

"The Informant" was a thriller that took place in Central Illinois during the early-1990s at the Fortune 500 company Archer Daniels Midland, known as ADM. ADM is an agri-business powerhouse and one of the largest companies in the world. Its former chairman, Dwayne Andreas, had extensive political connections to both political parties and was also connected indirectly to President Nixon's Watergate. Mark Whitacre was the duplicitous hero of the book.cite news |last=Stresing |first=D. |title=Book review: "The Informant" | |date=2000-10-24 |url=] Whitacre was a young rising star at ADM where he was the President of the BioProducts Division and Corporate Vice President of the company. As a result of some very odd circumstances, Whitacre also became the highest-level executive to turn whistleblower in U.S. history.

One night in early November, 1992, the high-ranking ADM executive did something extraordinary when he confessed to a FBI agent that ADM executives-including Whitacre himself-had routinely met with competitors to fix the price of lysine, a food additive.It was initially Whitacre’s wife, an elementary school teacher, who forced Whitacre to become a whistleblower by threatening to go to the FBI herself if he would not have informed the authorities of ADM’s illegal price-fixing activities. That meeting marked the first time that a participant in a price fixing cartel had ever voluntarily tipped off law-enforcement officials about a scheme. After informing the FBI, he assisted in gathering evidence by clandestinely taping the cartel’s activity in business meetings in locations such as Tokyo, Paris, Mexico City, and Hong Kong. During Whitacre's undercover work that spanned almost three years, the FBI collected hundreds of hours of video and audio tapes that documented crimes committed by executives from around the world fixing the prices of food additives in the largest price-fixing case in history at the time.

In a stunning turn of events immediately following the covert portion of the case, headlines around the world reported that the whistleblower defrauded $9 million from his company at the same period of time he was secretly working for the FBI and taping his co-workers. No sooner did an army of federal agents stage a dramatic raid on ADM's Illinois headquarters, than the company hit back with damning evidence that the government's star witness was a criminal himself. Whitacre became delusional and lied extensively to the FBI in his failed attempt to save himself. The FBI quickly learned that Whitacre was suffering from manic-depression, also known as bipolar disorder with the resulting grandiosity and embellishments in full bloom. They learned that their star witness was mentally ill. "The Informant" also focused on Whitacre's meltdown and bizarre behavior which occurred from the pressures of working for the FBI. Worst of all, Whitacre told stories to the media about how the FBI agents tried to force him to destroy some of the tapes (a story that he later recanted). The book went into great detail about Whitacre's bizarre behavior and how he cracked under pressure working undercover. He became extremely manic, stopped sleeping during most nights, and was seen using a gas leaf blower on his driveway during a thunderstorm at three o’clock in the morning. Whitacre attempted suicide a few months later, but he was saved by his groundskeeper.

Whitacre, who earned a Ph.D. from Cornell University in nutritional biochemistry, was the most improbable figure of the story. With his extremely poor judgment associated with bipolar disorder, he believed up to the end that he would become chief executive officer of ADM when the dust settled. His wife tried to convince him otherwise. He was also peculiarly suggestible: after seeing the movie, "The Firm", he imitated its hero, Mitch McDeere played by Tom Cruise, and began taping the FBI agents and storing the tapes for later use. Indeed, at one point, corporate investigator Jules Kroll, founder of Kroll Associates, became convinced that Whitacre was acting out a delusional fantasy based on "The Firm", and came up with forty-six parallels between the ADM case and the Grisham tale.

In the end, because Whitacre violated his immunity agreement with the government, he was also charged for price-fixing, the same case that Whitacre exposed for the FBI, in addition to wire fraud, tax fraud, and money laundering. In order to save Whitacre, his first attorney, James Epstein, presented a sterling performance to the top U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) officials convincing them that the government was not duped by Mark Whitacre, but instead the government created him. Epstein emphasized that Whitacre was not trained for FBI undercover projects; he was simply thrown in there without any training whatsoever and without any support to prevent him from cracking under pressure. Epstein told the DOJ officials that he would go public in a trial with everything that Whitacre went through for three years working undercover, and to only be punished after he helped crack one of the largest white-collar cases in history. He convinced the government that Whitacre solved a billion dollar case for the FBI, and that the case was a hundred-fold larger than Whitacre's fraud case. Epstein was successful in getting a very light sentence for Whitacre. He saved Whitacre. However, Whitacre, with his manic-depression fully out of control, saw it differently and he fired Epstein because he was not willing to do any jail time.

Whitacre then hired another attorney and they distanced themselves from the government where Whitacre was no longer of value to them as a witness. The government used the tapes in the ADM trials, but not Whitacre. In turn, Whitacre received a federal prison sentence that was three-times longer than the white-collar criminals he exposed in a much larger criminal conspiracy. Kurt Eichenwald, author of "The Informant", and several FBI agents adamantly disagreed with the nine-year sentence that Whitacre received. The story ends with the FBI agents, along with John Ashcroft, working on their attempt to obtain a presidential pardon for Whitacre in return for his substantial assistance with the massive ADM case. Both during Whitacre's prison tenure and afterwards, Dean Paisley, former FBI supervisor of the case, lobbied for a Presidential Pardon with support from all three FBI agents and one of the former prosecutors on the case. Furthermore, Paisley traveled to Washington, DC to meet with government lawyers in his quest for a pardon for Whitacre. With remarkable support from Whitacre's wife and the FBI, Whitacre eventually bounced back after years of jail time and mental health recovery, and later as reported in Forbes, promoted to the COO & President of a California biotechnology company.cite news |author=Staff writers |title=Mark Whitacre, Ph.D. Promoted at Cypress Systems, Inc. and a Warner Bros. Movie to be Filmed About Him |work=News Blaze |date=2008-03-25 |url=] cite news |last=Ackerman |first=Ruthie |title=Whitacre’s Star Rises Again |work=Forbes |year=2008-03-27 |url=]

As a result of the hundreds of tapes made by Whitacre, the lysine conspirators, including ADM, ultimately settled federal charges for more than $100 million. ADM also paid hundreds of millions of dollars in class action settlements to customers that it stole from during the price-fixing schemes. Several Asian and European lysine and citric acid producers, whom conspired to fix prices with ADM, paid criminal fines in the tens of millions of dollars to the U.S. government. A few top executives, including the Vice Chairman of ADM who was the son of the former powerful Chairman, received three years of federal prison time. The ADM investigation, in turn, convinced antitrust prosecutors that price-fixing was a far more pervasive problem than they had suspected and led to prosecutions of cartels in vitamins, fax paper, and graphite electrodes. Billions of dollars have already been paid in antitrust fines to the U.S. government since Whitacre first blew the whistle in 1992.

Film adaptation

The book was used as the basis of the movie also called "The Informant", directed by Steven Soderbergh.cite web |author=Editorial staff |title="The Informant", the Movie | |date=2005-06-18 |url=]


External links

* [ The Informant — Kurt Eichenwald] — official Random House website
* [ "This American Life" #168: The Fix Is In] (RealAudio) — interview with Mark Whitacre and the book's author, Kurt Eichenwald, from "This American Life"

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