TIME: The Peril Of Prosecutorial Passion (6/16/97)
Espy Pleads Not Guilty
'I know I will prevail,' he tells reporters
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Sep. 10) -- Former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy pleaded not guilty today to charges that he illegally accepted gifts and favors from agribusinesses while a member of the Clinton Cabinet, and then tried to cover up what he had done.
"May it please the court, I am not guilty," Espy told U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina.
Before the hearing, Espy shook hands with some reporters who had covered him at the Agriculture Department. When one expressed regret about the circumstances, Espy told him, "That's life, though. That's life."
Afterward, Espy read a hand-written statement. "Although some have called it a witch hunt, I have faith," he said. "I know I will prevail in this latest challenge to my life."
Independent counsel Donald C. Smaltz, who has led a three-year probe into Espy's dealings, had no comment.
Espy was in court for only six minutes to enter his plea. A grand jury in Washington last month indicted him on 39 counts of illegally accepting gifts, trips and favors worth more than $35,000 from major businesses under the department's purview while he headed the agency in 1993 and 1994.
Espy was also charged with lying to prosecutors and instructing an Agriculture Department employee to tamper with a document sought by investigators.
A former congressman from Mississippi, Espy was President Bill Clinton's first agriculture secretary. He resigned from the post in December 1994, three months after the start of the independent counsel's probe.
Espy faces 39 counts of alleged wrongdoing. Sixteen of the counts involve the Arkansas-based chicken-processing giant Tyson Foods. Other firms involved include Sun-Diamond Growers of California, a cooperative that produces raisins, prunes and other dried fruits, and Oglethorpe Power of Georgia.
The indictment portrays Espy as seeking tickets to pro football and basketball games and travel on corporate aircraft from the same firms that the Agriculture Department regulated. While he has denied wrongdoing, Espy did repay some companies a total of $7,600 for gifts, travel and sports tickets.
In an earlier statement, Tyson called the charges "flimsy" and contended that the dollar value of the gifts were inflated.
If convicted on all counts Espy faces a maximum term of more than 100 years in prison.
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