Tyson officials accused of seeking Espy influence

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two Tyson Foods Co. officials used corporate aircraft, sports tickets and other perks to gain a “cozy” relationship with former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy while poultry regulations were being considered, prosecutors told jurors at the start of the two men’s trial Tuesday.
A federal appeals court, meanwhile, reinstated three charges against Espy himself, rejecting a lower court’s decision that had said the 1907 Meat Inspection Act did not apply to the top Agriculture Department official.
An eight-woman, four-man jury was seated to consider charges that Arkansas-based Tyson’s Washington lobbyist, Jack L. Williams, and main corporate spokesman Archibald L. Schaffer III used $12,000 in gifts to gain favor with Espy in 1993 and 1994. The 15-count indictment also alleges both lied to investigators in an attempted cover-up.
Robert Ray, an attorney in the office of Espy independent counsel Donald Smaltz, said the gifts came as the Agriculture Department was considering regulations involving fecal contamination reduction and safe-handling labels that could have cost Tyson more than $130 million in the first year.
The gifts included Tyson corporate aircraft flights to a birthday party for company chairman Don Tyson, tickets to President Clinton’s first inaugural ball, tickets to a Dallas Cowboys-Green Bay Packers playoff football game and a $1,200 scholarship for Espy’s then-girlfriend, Patricia Dempsey.
Espy is awaiting trial on Oct. 1 on charges of accepting $35,000 in illegal gratuities from Tyson and other companies regulated by the Agriculture Department. Espy, who resigned in late 1994 and now practices law in Mississippi, has pleaded innocent.