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Finding peace

"Finding peace" Continued...

Issue: "Profiles in effective compassion," Sept. 26, 2009

Q: What was it like to wear a wire? I would meet with the FBI at 6 a.m. They would shave my chest and hook microphones up on my chest-also a backpack mike, one in my briefcase, one in my notebook.

Q: Meanwhile, you're embezzling more. I started worrying about a financial blanket for my family if I lost my job. That's when it became in the millions.

Q: While all this is happening you're going to church every Sunday. My family went to the Methodist church. I considered myself a Christian. People saw our 13,000-square-foot house, our 8-car garage full of cars. People would say, the Whitacres are behind these iron gates, they've got horse stables, they've got everything. We really had nothing-or at least I didn't.

Q: You had a triple life: loyal employee, secret agent, embezzler. That's correct. Building this company during the day, but at night I'm meeting the FBI agents two or three times a week at midnight. I'm giving them all these tapes and I'm making tapes every day, tearing the company down.

Q: Psychological pressure. I would come home and my wife would say, "Who'd you work for today? ADM or the FBI?" I started working for myself. I was into seven-figure compensation, and that's a lot for a young man coming in at 32, seven years out of grad school. I got carried away with that.

Q: And ADM had something on you. As soon as the company learned that I was an informant they told the FBI that I was also embezzling on the side.

Q: Your lawyer made a strong case for you to get a minimal sentence. Right. He argued that my crime was a $9 million crime but I resolved a billion-dollar crime with the tapes that I made. He thought there was a good chance that I would get about a six-month sentence in the end.

Q: You didn't take that deal. In the state of mind that I was, I just couldn't even accept it if he offered me probation. With the education and the drive that I had, to be a felon-I just couldn't accept that in my mind or in my heart at that time. So I fired that attorney.

Q: Is that because you were justifying yourself? I never looked at it as embezzlement during that time. I had a sense of entitlement. I wore a wire in Hong Kong, in Paris, in Mexico City. I'd have to run from the meeting in Paris, meet the FBI agents at the embassy, give them the tapes, and run back to the meeting to have a dinner meeting with the competitors.

Q: Ego? I looked at it as paying myself. I am solving a billion-dollar crime for the FBI. They are going to get hundreds of millions of dollars in fines paid to them, what's $9 million?

Q: Do you think other executives justify themselves similarly? Enron, WorldCom, most of those people are good people in their community, but you get this sense of entitlement. You don't look at it as a shareholder's company. You don't look at it as a public company. You look at it as your company. I looked at ADM as my company. I can pay myself what I want. It's my company. I will be the next president.

Q: So in 1998 you received a sentence that would keep you in prison until at least 2006. I started thinking, "How am I ever going to get through?" I did not want to live. I did not want to put my family through it. I tried to kill myself.

Q: Your thinking changed in Atlanta. I was being transferred through this Atlanta holdover that was 23-hours-a-day lockdown. They put your meals through the door, that type of thing, three times a day. One prisoner had 30 years, another almost life. Everyone was let out for an hour a day in what I called a dog cage, this crowded fenced-in area.

Q: Dangerous place, and you didn't want to go. They took the hour break. I did not. I was reading the Bible, reading in Psalms, and that's when I started really relying on God, as compared to going to church on Sunday and saying I'm a Christian. I got on my knees and said, "God, for someone in prison for almost a decade, the divorce rate is over 99 percent. They don't survive as a family six months in prison, let alone a decade. Would I even have any employment after nine years in prison, a convicted felon?"

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