An indictment against a California agribusiness company says its former chief lobbyist gave a $2,400 luggage set, sports tickets and other gifts to former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy.
The federal indictment Thursday against Sun-Diamond Growers of California says Espy's girlfriend, who was not named, and his brother, Henry, also benefited from the company's largesse from early 1993 through March 1994.The nine-count indictment says Mike Espy received $9,000 in gratuities, including $3,100 for his girlfriend to accompany him to a conference in Greece. The company also illegally contributed $5,000 to help retire Henry Espy's debts from a failed congressional race, the indictment says.
Attorneys for the company and the former lobbyist, Richard Douglas, disputed the charges. Only the company was charged, but Douglas' attorney called the indictment an attempt by independent counsel Donald C. Smaltz to smear Douglas and Sun-Diamond.
The indictment is the first in the investigation by Smaltz to allege that the former Clinton Cabinet member received gifts from anyone. The investigation was sparked by such allegations, but earlier indictments focused on alleged fraud by farmers and illegal corporate contributions to retire Henry Espy's campaign debts.
Mike Espy resigned at the end of 1994 because of the investigation.
The indictment alleges five counts of illegal gratuities and wire fraud, each punishable by fines of up to $500,000, and four counts of illegal campaign contributions punishable by fines of up to $200,000 each.
"Sun-Diamond Growers categorically denies all charges brought by the independent counsel," the company's attorney, Eric Bloom, said.