Dwayne Andreas, The FBI, and Me

Dwayne Orville Andreas, the pocket hurricane that built a sleepy soybean processor, Archer Daniels Midland Co., into a global giant, died Wednesday, Nov. 16, in a Decatur, IL hospital. He was 98.

Andreas’s career was as long and profitable as it was remarkable and jaded. Just last week someone again asked me if it was true that the ADM corporate jet was the only unescorted American aircraft permitted in Soviet airspace during the Cold War because it carried Andreas and his grocery sack of needed American farm goods.

True or not, the story captures the legend of the world’s soybean king. On his way to the throne, however, the federal government twice caught ADM breaking the law.

The first time, in 1978, according to the New York Times, was for fixing prices on “grain sold to the Food for Peace Program.” The second, in 1996, led to ADM pleading guilty to criminal charges of price fixing.

Both scandals stopped short of charging Andreas directly but the second delivered his son, Michael, to federal prison while dear old dad accepted an offer of immunity.

That’s the ADM-Andreas history most farmers know: ADM copping to criminal price-fixing charges based on secret recordings made by a company insider, later identified as Mark Whitacre, an ADM division vice president. Here’s some history many may not know.

Not long after the June 1995 Federal Bureau of Investigation raid on ADM’s headquarters, the Department of Justice began to see their star witness, Whitacre, dim.

The problem was that Whitacre, now an accused embezzler, had been talking—to everyone. He talked to Scott Kilman of the Wall Street Journal, Nancy Millman of the Chicago Tribune, Sharon Walsh of the Washington Post, Ron Henkoff of Fortune magazine, John Stebbins of Bloomberg News, Kurt Eichenwald of the New York Times, and, beginning in July 1996, me.

He wasn’t the only one talking. In mid-1996, my fax machine began spitting out unedited FBI interview notes, yet-to-be published news stories, and something called The Watch Letter, a multi-page effort filled with insider information, gossip, and tips on the ADM case.

The Letter was written by David and Carol Hoech, owners of Global Consultants, a small Florida-based firm with deep ties to international ag markets. David, too, talked endlessly, mostly off-the-record, to journalists about ADM and Dwayne Andreas. He openly despised both.

Still, journalists talked to Hoech because he seemed to have friends, sources, and tipsters everywhere. If you wanted the number of Dwayne Andreas’s bedside telephone, Hoech had it. Raw transcripts of FBI interviews conducted yesterday? Hoech was your guy. Need to talk to Whitacre? Call Hoech and Mark would be on the line a minute later.

Who was this rainmaker?

After two decades of talking to Hoech, it’s still hard to say. He did know Whitacre, ADM, and global ag products like no one else. ADM, he preached, embodied everything wrong with American business—rigged prices, dishonest dealings, phony front groups, and contempt for customers.

Dealing with Hoech, however, was not easy. He was loud, pushy, and fearless. Shortly after we met I began to receive anonymous, threatening telephone calls from who knew.

“Relax, man,” Hoech would advise, “that’s just ADM.”

A second later he’d ask, “Hey, man, you own a gun?” He wasn’t joking.

Then, on Labor Day 1996, no matter who I dialed on any of my three office lines, I always got the same person at the same place: “ADM Security, this is Betty.” Hoech’s phones had the same problem.

Was I scared? Top to bottom. I used a neighbor’s telephone to call the FBI, the same FBI that had raided ADM a year earlier. No one ever called back.

Hoech, however, did. And he kept calling—for 20 years. Often I’d pick up the phone to hear, “Hey, brother, you OK?”

David Hoech died Aug. 8, 2015, not quite two months after my family and I saw him in his comfortable home west of St. Louis. We had a lengthy, laugh-filled visit before his ailment, pulmonary disease, drained him of all color and energy. It was time to say that good-bye.

“Don’t worry about me,” Hoech growled in my ear as he leaned heavily on me to steady himself; “I’m gonna outlive that little (expletive) in Decatur.”

It was one of the rare times he got it wrong.

© 2016 ag comm

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