Copyright © 1994 The Telegraph plc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduced with permission.
The Electronic Telegraph   Sunday 9 October 1994   World News
[World News]

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

Resignation fuels scandal of corruption and drugs in President's home state

ONCE again there is talk of "Arkansas mores" in Washington. This time it is the Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Espy, who has seen his career destroyed by the curse of Bill Clinton's home state. Under investigation by a special prosecutor for accepting gifts from Arkansas poultry king Donald Tyson, Espy announced his resignation last week.

Don Tyson is one of Arkansas's great characters. Ensconced in a replica Oval Office, with door handles in the shape of eggs, he presides over the biggest chicken processing operation in the world. He usually wears khaki overalls with "Don" stitched on his breast pocket, and gets his hands dirty working side by side with his 54,000 employees.

It is said that half the American people get to eat a piece of Tyson's chicken every week. The family business, Tyson Foods, has grown at an explosive rate since the 1960s, swallowing up rival companies in a relentless quest for market domination. Annual turnover is now close to $5 billion. "There's no second place. First place is the only place in the world," says Tyson.

With a base of operations in Springdale, north-west Arkansas, Tyson is regarded with awe as the ultimate kingmaker in state politics. He sponsored Bill Clinton's early rise to prominence, then helped toss him out of the Governor's Mansion in 1982 when Clinton failed to deliver on a promise to relax trucking regulations. Clinton never made the mistake of crossing Tyson again.

According to claims made in a report by CBS television's 60 Minutes, Tyson effectively vetted the appointment of Espy as Agriculture Secretary. Espy even went to Arkansas to have lunch with the chicken king in order to seek his blessing for the post.

Once in office, he proved to be a good friend of the poultry lobby. In March last year his chief-of-staff at the Agriculture Department ordered bureaucrats to scuttle the implementation of tougher poultry inspections.

Business as usual, say most pundits in Washington. Just another case of money-men and politicians getting too cosy with each other. But there may be another dimension to this scandal.

Memoranda that circulated in the Criminal Intelligence Section of the Arkansas State Police show that Don Tyson was under suspicion of drug dealing from the early 1970s until the late 1980s.

A file note dated March 25, 1976, comments that Tyson "is an extremely wealthy man with much political influence and seems to be involved in almost every kind of shady operation especially narcotics, however, {he} has to date gone without implication in any specific crime. Tyson likes to think of himself as 'king of the hill' in north-west Arkansas."

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration also had a file, "Tyson, Donald J. et al", including a document in which an informant reports on what is referred to as "Donald Tyson's drug trafficking organisation".

A 1982 file, from the DEA in Oklahoma, refers to Tyson as the "Chicken Man" and talks of an allegation by an informant that "Tyson smuggles cocaine from Colombia, South America, inside race horses to Hot Springs, Arkansas."

None of these accusations led to prosecution.

One former state trooper, who worked for eight years as an undercover narcotics agent, the last four in the Springdale region of Arkansas, told The Sunday Telegraph she had collected detailed intelligence that Tyson was smuggling cocaine stuffed inside chickens.

The state trooper is extremely bitter about what happened. She says she was the victim of a smear campaign from within the Arkansas State Police after she requested the Tyson files.

"They started passing out my photo on the streets, which put my life in danger," she said. By 1987 her position had become untenable. She resigned from the police, her career in ruins, and went into semi-hiding outside the US.

Using the intelligence she gathered, another state trooper, J. N. "Doc" Delaughter, tried to start a second investigation of Tyson in 1988. He still has an internal memorandum showing that Federal Prosecutor Michael Fitzhugh expressed interest in pursuing a criminal conspiracy charge against Tyson, involving a "combined investigation team of the FBI, DEA, IRS, and the State Police".

Fitzhugh says that he does not know why the case fizzled out. "We're prosecutors, not investigators," he said. Referring to the Arkansas State Police, he said that "the ball was in their court. For whatever reason, I never heard another word from them about the thing."

Ex-trooper Delaughter says that he was pulled off the case after being warned by his department not to hammer "the nails in his own coffin". Shortly afterwards he was demoted to highway patrol, then sent off for a mental evaluation. The police psychologist deemed him a "danger to society" and recommended that he be suspended from service.

Delaughter took early retirement.

"Trying to bring these guys down is not conducive to a good career," he said, with a wry smile, as we sat drinking a beer on the veranda of his remote lakeside cabin. "You develop leprosy. Fast."

The State Police chief at the time, Col Tommy Goodwin, said: "There was not enough information to start an investigation." He said the documents that have come to light recently "weren't in the Tyson file back then".

Calls from The Sunday Telegraph to Tyson's offices were not returned.

Meanwhile the Whitewater prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, is investigating a $15,000 donation by Tyson to a secret political fund controlled by the then Governor Clinton.

It was Jim Blair, a legal adviser to Tyson, who helped Hillary Clinton to turn $1,000 into $100,000 during her husband's first year as Governor.

Asked by CBS if the money was a straight "pay-off" to the Clintons, Tyson gave a vehement denial.

Unless the precise trading records are subpoened from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Americans will never know for sure.

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