Mark Whitacre : biography
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), he was the highest-level corporate executive in U.S. history to become a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) whistleblower. For three years (1992–1995), Whitacre acted as an informant for the FBI, which was investigating ADM for price fixing. In apparent retaliation for his role as an informant, 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. He holds B.S. and M.S. degrees from Ohio State University, and earned a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry from Cornell University (1983).
Whitacre married his high school sweetheart, Ginger Gilbert, on June 16, 1979.
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. Forbes reported that Whitacre was guest speaker at the Quantico FBI Academy during 2011 about second chances, 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.
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. Whitacre’s wife pressured him into becoming a whistleblower after she threatened to go to the FBI herself.
Over the next three years, Whitacre worked with FBI agents to collect information and record conversations with both ADM executives and its competitors. 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).
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. Whitacre was later convicted of embezzling US$9 million; some of this criminal activity occurred during the time he was cooperating with the FBI.
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. 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.
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. 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.
Eichenwald writes that Whitacre lied and became delusional in a failed attempt to save himself, making the FBI investigation much more difficult. 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. 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.