Rats in the Grain: The Dirty Tricks of the "Supermarket to the World," Archer Daniels Midland

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9781568581422: Rats in the Grain: The Dirty Tricks of the

Beneath the wholesome image of Archer Daniels Midland lie some of the dirtiest practices in American business: price-fixing, bribery, and cover-ups. Unfolding like a legal thriller, Rats in the Grain portrays the crime and punishment of ADM during the largest white-collar criminal trial of the 1990s. James Lieber profiles the witnesses, the defense lawyers and federal prosecutors, the inner workings of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, and the unpredictable mole Lieber had access to. “A detailed account of how an influential corporation can go rotten.” — The Cleveland Plain Dealer

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Review:

Archer Daniels Midland--popularly known as ADM, the "Supermarket to the World"--spends millions on ads during Sunday morning TV talk shows and on public radio to burnish its popular image. But behind the façade lies a vicious business eager to fix prices with its competitors and employ prostitutes in corporate espionage, according to James B. Lieber's muckraking account, Rats in the Grain. Lieber tells the story of why the FBI raided ADM's Illinois headquarters in 1995, as well as the events leading up to the raid and the trial that resulted. ADM was not an easy target--it's extremely well connected in Washington (an appendix listing politicians who have received financial contributions from ADM reads like a who's who of Beltway power brokers), and it was a leading recipient of federal largesse. In the end, ADM paid a criminal antitrust fine of $100 million, and two top executives were sent to prison for collaborating with competitors. But the case was messy. The FBI's informant, Mark Whitacre--once believed to be in line to succeed the company president--twice tried to commit suicide following the FBI raid, and was eventually sentenced to nine years for fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion.

But Lieber tells the story of ADM's crisis well, and with a strong anti-ADM slant. He's no master of prose style, but his writing is clear and to the point. His book simply crackles with detail--at times, it's difficult to keep up with all the characters (there's another appendix identifying them for easy reference). Throughout the text, readers will feel as if they're in the middle of a 60 Minutes exposé of dirty business practices--a sense augmented by several pages of photos taken from hidden surveillance cameras spying on backroom deals. After reading Rats in the Grain, it will be impossible to look at one of those feel-good ADM ads the same way again. --John J. Miller

About the Author:

James B. Lieber is the author of Friendly Takeover. He has written for publications including The Nation and the New York Times Magazine, among others. He lives in Pittsburgh.

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