Mark Whitacre

Mark Whitacre
Born (1957-05-01) May 1, 1957
Morrow, Ohio
Occupation COO and President of Operations
of Cypress Systems, Inc.[1][2][3]
Criminal charge Wire fraud, tax fraud, money laundering, price-fixing[4]
Criminal penalty 10 yr. in federal prison camp (but served ca. 8½ yrs. for good behavior)[1]
Criminal status Released December 21, 2006[1][2][3]
Spouse(s) Ginger (Gilbert) Whitacre (married 1979)[5][6]
Children Three adult children[6]

Mark Edward Whitacre (born May 1, 1957) came to public attention in 1995 when, as president of the BioProducts Division at Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) based in Decatur, Illinois, he was the highest-level corporate executive in U.S. history to become a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) whistleblower. For three years (1992–95), Whitacre acted as an informant for the FBI, which was investigating ADM for price fixing.

In apparent retaliation for his role as an informant,[7] ADM investigated Whitacre's activities and, upon discovering suspicious activity, requested the FBI investigate Whitacre for embezzlement. As a result of US$9.5 million in various frauds, Whitacre lost his whistleblower's immunity, and consequently spent eight-and-a-half years in federal prison. He was released in December 2006. Whitacre is currently the chief operating officer and President of Operations at Cypress Systems, a California biotechnology firm.

Early life and education

Whitacre was born on May 1, 1957 and grew up in Morrow, Ohio.[5] He holds B.S. and M.S. degrees from Ohio State University,[5] and earned a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry from Cornell University (1983).[5][8]


Whitacre was a Ph.D. scientist at Ralston Purina after he graduated from Cornell University in early 1983. He then was a top executive, Vice President, at Degussa from 1984 to 1989 prior to joining ADM. In late 1989, Whitacre became the President of the BioProducts Division at ADM. In 1992, he was promoted to Corporate Vice President of ADM, in addition to being President of the BioProducts Division. On August 9, 1995, Whitacre was terminated for conducting a $9.5 million fraud after ADM learned that he was an FBI informant for three years, where Whitacre wore a wire for the FBI assisting in one of the largest price fixing cases in U.S. history against ADM.[5]

After leaving ADM in August 1995, Whitacre was hired as the CEO of Future Health Technologies (FHT), which soon thereafter was renamed Biomar International; he worked at Biomar until his incarceration began during early 1998.[9]

In December 2006, after his release from federal prison, Whitacre was hired by Cypress Systems Inc., a California biotechnology company, as the President of Technology and Business Development.[1] In March 2008, Whitacre was promoted to the company's Chief Operating Officer (COO) and President of operations.[2][10]

ADM price-fixing

In 1992, during an ADM-initiated investigation of corporate espionage and sabotage, Whitacre informed an FBI agent that he and other ADM executives were involved in an illegal multinational lysine price-fixing scheme.[11][12] Whitacre's wife pressured him into becoming a whistleblower after she threatened to go to the FBI herself.[13]

Over the next three years, Whitacre worked with FBI agents to collect information and record conversations with both ADM executives and its competitors.[5] ADM ultimately settled Federal charges for more than US$100 million and paid hundreds of millions of dollars more to plaintiffs and customers (US$400 million alone on a high-fructose corn syrup class action case).[11][14][15]

Whitacre embezzlement

A few years into the price-fixing investigation, Whitacre confessed to his FBI handlers that he had been involved with corporate kickbacks and money laundering at ADM.[5] Whitacre was later convicted of embezzling US$9 million; some of this criminal activity occurred during the time he was cooperating with the FBI.[4][16]

Sentencing and release

Represented by high-profile lawyer, John M. Dowd, Whitacre pleaded guilty, without a trial, to tax evasion and fraud and was sent to prison on March 4, 1998.[4] Although some officials in the FBI and the Department of Justice opposed the length of the penalty, Whitacre was sentenced to ten and a half years in Federal prison—three times longer than his price-fixing conspirators. In December 2006, he was released on good behavior after serving eight and half years.[17][18]

Differing perspectives

Kurt Eichenwald

In his 2000 book, The Informant, Kurt Eichenwald, a former New York Times reporter, portrays Whitacre as a complex figure: while working for the FBI as one of the best and most effective undercover cooperating witnesses the U.S. government ever had, Whitacre was simultaneously committing a US$9 million white-collar crime.[7] According to Eichenwald, preceding the investigation Whitacre was scammed by a group in Nigeria in an advance fee fraud, and suggests that Whitacre's losses in the scam may have been the initial reason behind his embezzlement activity at ADM.[6]

Eichenwald writes that Whitacre lied and became delusional in a failed attempt to save himself, making the FBI investigation much more difficult.[7] The Informant details Whitacre's bizarre behavior, including Whitacre cracking under pressure, increasing his mania, telling the media that FBI agents tried to force him to destroy tapes (a story that Whitacre later recanted), and attempting suicide.[7] Two doctors later diagnosed Whitacre as suffering from bipolar disorder. Eichenwald concludes that Whitacre's sentence was unjust because of his mental instability at the time.[19]

Eichenwald, two prosecutors, an FBI agent, and Mark Whitacre (during his incarceration) were featured on a September 15, 2000, episode of the radio program This American Life about the ADM case.[20] Eichenwald referred to Whitacre's sentence as "excessive and a law enforcement failure" because Whitacre never received credit for his substantial cooperation in assisting the government with the massive price-fixing case.[20]

Eichenwald's account of Whitacre has been called into question by the syndicated columnist Alan Guebert,[21] following the disclosure in August 2007 that Eichenwald paid his sources on another story.[22]

Feature film

The Informant! is a Warner Bros. feature film released on September 18, 2009. Produced by Jennifer Fox and directed by Steven Soderbergh, the dark comedy/drama film stars Matt Damon as Whitacre. The screenplay by Scott Z. Burns is based on Kurt Eichenwald's book, The Informant, with most of the filming done in Central Illinois (Moweaqua and Decatur).[23] In the movie, the character of Whitacre is portrayed as illustrating bizarre behavior, such as often being delusional, manic, compulsively lying, and it was eventually learned that Whitacre was suffering from bipolar disorder.[23]

James B. Lieber

In his 2000 book, Rats In The Grain, attorney James B. Lieber focuses on ADM's price-fixing trial and presents Whitacre as an American hero overpowered by ADM's vast political clout.[17] Rats In The Grain presents evidence that the U.S. Department of Justice often subjugated itself to ADM's political power and well-connected attorneys in prosecuting Whitacre. Lieber reveals that, in 1996, "ADM CEO, Mr. Dwayne Andreas, told The Washington Post that he had known about Whitacre's frauds for three years” and speculates that Whitacre was fired and turned over to the Federal authorities only after ADM learned he had been working as an FBI mole. If he knew about Whitacre's embezzlement for three years, Lieber asks, why didn't Andreas fire Whitacre immediately? Lieber surmises: “There were only two logical explanations for Andreas' behavior: either he did not think the funds were stolen (in other words, they were approved) or he didn't care."[24] Based on the fact that other ADM executives committed crimes such as financial fraud by a former treasurer and technology thefts by others, Lieber concludes that fraud was well-known and widespread at ADM during the 1990s.[17] Lieber suggests that ADM would have not turned Whitacre over to the authorities if he had not been a mole for the FBI.[16]

Like Eichenwald, Lieber concludes that Whitacre's lengthy prison sentence was excessive and unjust when one takes into account Whitacre's cooperation in the much larger price-fixing case.[19][25]

Lieber also poses this question: "Where will the government obtain the next Mark Whitacre after potential whistleblowers observe how Whitacre was treated?" [24]

Clemency and pardon support

Appeals for Whitacre's full pardon or clemency to the White House were supported by several current and former justice department officials: Dean Paisley, a retired 25-year veteran and former FBI supervisor on the price-fixing case; two other FBI agents involved with the case; a former Attorney General of the United States; one of the former Asst. U.S. Attorneys who prosecuted Whitacre; two prosecutors from the Canadian Department of Justice; several Senators and Congressmen; Cornell University and Ohio State University professors; Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew; Chuck Colson; and numerous top executives of corporations.[1][10][21][26]

In 2008, more than ten years after the original conviction, Paisley and two other FBI agents went public with praise for Whitacre. Paisley concluded that "Whitacre's fraud case was minuscule as compared to the ADM case Whitacre cooperated with.”[1][8][10][23] "Had it not been for the fraud conviction," Paisley said, "he would be a national hero. Well, he is a national hero."[8][23][26][27] Paisley added, "Without him, the biggest antitrust case we've ever had would not have been."[8][23][27] On August 4, 2010, in a Discovery Channel documentary, Undercover: Operation Harvest King, several FBI agents stated that "Whitacre got a raw deal."[28] In addition, official letters from the FBI in support of a Whitacre pardon were published in Floyd Perry's September 2009 book, Mark Whitacre: Against All Odds.[29]

Discovery Channel TV documentary

A Discovery Channel TV documentary titled Undercover: Operation Harvest King, which documents Mark Whitacre's role in the ADM price fixing case, aired several times during 2009 and 2010. Discovery Channel interviewed the three FBI agents who handled the Mark Whitacre/ADM case (i.e., Dean Paisley, Brian Shepard and Robert Herndon), along with Mark and Ginger Whitacre.[28] The 45-minute documentary is archived.[30]

Personal life

Whitacre married his high school sweetheart, Ginger Gilbert, on June 16, 1979.[3][5][6]

Whitacre became a Christian during his incarceration, and since his prison release during December 2006, he has been often interviewed by the Christian community-including the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN)-about redemption, second chances, and the importance of his faith.[3][31][32][33][34][35][36] Forbes reported that Whitacre was guest speaker at the Quantico FBI Academy during 2011 about second chances,[3][35] and he was keynote speaker for the 40th Annual NAPSA (Pre Trial Services and U.S. Federal Probation) Conference in 2012 along with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.[37]

See also



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Lysine Cartel Whistleblower on Price Fixing and Rebuilding his Life after Prison", Feed Info News Service, Global Data Systems, Inc., 2009-01-13
  2. 1 2 3 Ackerman 2008
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Pavlo, Walt (2011-10-17). "Rajaratnam prison Path has been traveled before". Forbes.
  4. 1 2 3 "Former ADM Executive Pleads Guilty to Fraud" (Press release). United States Department of Justice. 1997-10-10. Retrieved 2009-09-20.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Henkoff, Ronald; Jaynes, Madeline (1995-09-04). "So Who Is This Mark Whitacre, And Why Is He Saying These Things About Adm?". CNN.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Lieber 2000, 518
  7. 1 2 3 4 (Eichenwald 2000, )
  8. 1 2 3 4 Muirhead 2008
  9. Lieber 2000, page 379
  10. 1 2 3 Send2Press NewsWire (2008-03-25), Mark Whitacre, Ph.D. Promoted at Cypress Systems, Inc. and a Warner Bros. Movie to be Filmed About Him, News Blaze
  11. 1 2 Wilson, J.K. (2000-12-21), Price-Fixer to the World, Bankrate, retrieved 2009-09-20
  12. CPR (2009-09-18), "The Fix Is In", Chicago Public Radio, pp. 
  13. Eichenwald 2000, page 49
  14. Greenwald, Donnelly & McWhirter 1996
  15. "Archer Daniels Settles Suit Accusing it of Price Fixing" (Press release). Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer LLP. 2004-07-19. Archived from 2009-09-20 the original Check |url= value (help) on July 4, 2015.
  16. 1 2 Lubbock Avalanche 1996
  17. 1 2 3 Mokhiber, Russell; Weissman,, Robert (2000-08-08), "Rats in the Grain", Common Dreams NewsCenter, retrieved 2009-09-20
  18. Krebs, A.V. (2000-08-16), "Must reading", The Progressive Populist, Ampersand Publishing Co.
  19. 1 2 Webber, Susan (2000-09-25), Tale of the Tapes, Aurora Advisors Newsletter
  20. 1 2 Glass 2000
  21. 1 2 Guebert 2007
  22. Calderone 2007
  23. 1 2 3 4 5 Cain, Tim (2008-04-06). "Behind the inside man: Mark Whitacre, talks about 'The Informant', his time in prison and moving forward". Decatur Herald.
  24. 1 2 (Lieber, )
  25. Whitaker, Leslie (2000-10-30), "Supermarket for Scandal", The Pennsylvania Gazette
  26. 1 2 England 2009
  27. 1 2 Sidhu, Roopam (2008-07-23), Fresno company linked to Matt Damon movie, CBS TV 47 FresnoVideo on YouTube
  28. 1 2 Discovery Channel 2009
  29. Perry, Floyd (2009), Mark Whitacre Against All Odds, XLIBRIS, Inc., ISBN 978-1-4415-4133-8
  30. Lefevre, Alison (2010-08-04). "Undercover: Operation Harvest King". Investigation Discovery.
  31. Castleberry, Carolyn (2009-09-21). "Whitacre's Story of Price Fixing Hits Big Screen". Christian Broadcasting Network.
  32. Freeman, Huey (2010-01-17). "Against All Odds' earns approval of subject". Decatur Herald.
  33. Kayser, Steve (2011-02-23). "A Second Chance at Life". 55KRC Cincinnati Expert Access Radio. Archived from the original on May 8, 2013.
  34. Hierholzer, Mary (2011-12-06). "Whitacre's white-collar crimes lead to transformation". 55KRC Cincinnati Expert Access Radio.
  35. 1 2 Willis, Paul (2011-06-15). "Mark Whitacre: A Proven Voice for Re-Entry". JPW3 Prison Ministry.
  36. Schwartz, Joey (2013-01-19). "Mark Whitacre:God's Redemption on Display". Christianity Applied (UNC).
  37. "When Good Leaders Lose Their Way". NAPSA Conference. 2012-08-21.


Coverage in the news media

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