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A former federal prosecutor from Los Angeles was named Friday to investigate whether Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy illegally accepted gifts from companies regulated by the department.

Donald C. Smaltz, 57, will examine gifts to Espy of travel, lodging and professional sports tickets from Arkansas-based Tyson Foods Inc., the nation's largest poultry producer, and from Quaker Oats.Smaltz, now in private practice, also will be free to examine any other allegations of criminal wrongdoing that may arise from the investigation.

"I'm honored to be chosen and I pledge a fair, comprehensive and prompt investigation and, if war

ranted, a vigorous and effective prosecution or prosecutions, whatever the case is," he said by phone from a train between Baltimore and Philadelphia.

A Pennsylvania native, Smaltz spent four years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Southern California in the 1960s. He taught law during the 1970s and now practices with the firm of Smaltz and Anderson.

He has specialized in defending white-collar criminal cases, and his most recent trial work was in environmental cases.

Espy was traveling in Europe on official business and could not be reached for comment.