Alphonso Michael Espy

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Alphonso Michael Espy, called Mike Espy, (born November 30, 1953) was a U.S. political figure. From 1987 to 1993, he served in the US House of Representatives from Mississippi. He served as the Secretary of Agriculture from 1993 to 1994. He was the first African-American Secretary of Agriculture.

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Background

On August 27, 1997, Espy was indicted on charges of granting favors in exchange for thousands of dollars in gifts such as sports tickets, lodging, and airfare. Espy refused to plea bargain and on December 2,1998 was acquitted of all 30 criminal charges in the trial. Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz presented more than 70 witnesses in the trial and spent more than $20 million preparing and trying the case.

The defense rested without calling witnesses, stating simply that the prosecution had not proved its case. The jury deliberated less than 10 hours before finding Espy innocent of all charges. One of the jurors stated "This was the weakest, most bogus thing I ever saw. I can't believe Mr. Smaltz ever brought this to trial."

At least four other jurors echoed this view, though with softer words.

During testimony before the jury, the prosecution's star witness told Smaltz in front of the jury: "God knows, if I had $30 million, I could find dirt on you, sir."

During the trial, Smaltz protested that the defense was injecting race into the trial in what he saw as an appeal to a mostly black jury. Barbara Bisoni, the only white juror, said Smaltz's case "had holes" and that race never entered into the two days of deliberations.

In Dec. 1997, Tyson Foods, the nation's largest poultry processor, pleaded guilty to giving Espy more than $12,000 in illegal gifts, and agreed to pay $6 million in fines and investigative expenses.

In a similar case to Tyson Foods, Sun Diamond was fined $1.5 million for giving $6,000 in gifts to Espy. Sun Diamond appealed to the Supreme Court which reversed the decision since no link between the gifts and any official action was made. The majority opinion of the court, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, stated that the prosecutor's interpretation of the law was so broad that even a high school principal could be in legal trouble for giving a souvenir baseball cap to a visiting Secretary of Education.


Preceded by:
Edward R. Madigan
 United States Secretary of Agriculture  
1993–1994
Succeeded by:
Bob Nash

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