A “Christian” man confesses illegal activity to the authorities and becomes a heralded Whistleblower. His next actions lead to great personal disaster and unexpected blessings. ◊
The Christian wife of a brilliant 32-year-old senior executive of a global corporation was troubled when she realized that her husband and the top executives of his company were involved in a price-fixing scheme with other major competitors.
They had formed an illegal international cartel.
This global company was the 56th largest company on the Fortune 500 and one of the largest food additive companies in the world with sales of $70 billion and over 30,000 employees. The company supplied key ingredients for the foods people around the world eat and drink every day: Kellogg’s cereal, Kraft Food, Tyson Foods, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi. By fixing prices at higher levels, these executives were essentially stealing a billion dollars annually from their large food and beverage companies, and that increased cost was being passed on to consumers.
As the executive put it, “Basically, we were stealing from everyone around the world who bought groceries.”
Young Executive Turned Whistleblower
In their mid-30’s, the executive, Mark Whitacre, and his wife had 3 children and were living the American dream, and then some. He had a 7-figure income with stock options, a huge mansion, private schools, luxury cars, access to corporate jets. He was in line to become the COO and president of ADM when the then 70-year-old president retired.
But when his wife confronted him on his apparent intense work stress and unhappiness, he confessed about the illegal activity. When she understood the full scale of the crime, she immediately told him that he should turn himself into the FBI. He told her that he could go to prison and that they would lose their beautiful home, their cars and their lifestyle.
She told him that she would rather be homeless than live in a home paid for by theft. She persisted, “Either turn yourself into the FBI, or I will do it for you!”
An hour later he was confessing his role in this international price-fixing scheme and agreed to work undercover as an FBI informant. For the next 3 years he cooperated with the FBI and covertly recorded and video-taped price-fixing meetings held all over the world in Paris, Mexico City, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Zurich.
The FBI built a case that successful brought charges in 1998 against ADM and prison sentences for 3 of its top executives for the price fixing that occurred in the 1990s. ADM and several foreign companies pleaded guilty and settled with the US Department of Justice Antitrust Division over $105M in criminal fines.
But the story doesn’t end there. Whitacre justified in his mind that since he would lose his job and stock options after the case became exposed, he decided, without informing his wife, that he would secretly design his own executive severance package and wrote bogus checks to companies he owned totaling $9.5 million dollars.
When the FBI case became public and Whitacre was named as the informant, ADM determined that Mark Whitacre was no white knight. They revealed the $9.5M theft and he lost all legal immunity for being the FBI’s key witness in their case.1
Facing a 10.5-year prison sentence for this crime of embezzlement, his pride would have him fight the federal case against him. Though given an opportunity for a 3-year plea deal, he refused and then a year later lost his case and received the full sentence.
Whitacre served 8 years and 8 months in a federal prison. He was released in 2006 a strikingly changed man.
Forgiveness and Restoration for a $9.5M Sin?
Mark Whitacre admits now that if anyone had asked him if he was a Christian, he would have said “Yes, I go to church almost every Sunday.” He acknowledges that his own pride, intellect, and ambition, overwhelmed any real belief in God or personal accountability.
He got his opportunity to reassess his life and his personal religious beliefs in the months prior to entering prison and then while in prison. He was counseled by a Christian man named Ian Howes, a CFO in the industry, who approached him and became a friend after all his other friends abandoned him. Isaac had read about Whitacre’s two unsuccessful attempts at suicide in order to provide a life insurance payout for his wife and children.
Though his wife and family stayed loyal to him, Whitacre lost his home, stock, and all of his savings. He went in to prison a broken man, but Howes and a group called the Christian Business Men’s Connection used a study called Operation Timothy and helped coach Whitacre on the claims of Christ: Who He was, what did He do, what difference does it make?
Shortly after entering prison, Whitacre was visited by Chuck Colson, President Nixon’s “hatchet man” and founder of Prison Fellowship. Colson reinforced what Whitacre was learning about God loving him, and no matter what mistakes he made, God could forgive him. After only 3 months in prison, Mark Whitacre got on his knees and asked God to forgive him and surrendered to Christ.
He started an amazing prison journey and emerged from his depression. Additionally:
- God preserved his marriage. He connected to his family 17 hours each weekend with visiting hours Friday through Sunday for 9 years.
- God provided for his family. Defrauded corporations Tyson Foods, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and Kraft, who won hundreds of millions of dollars in class action suits against ADM, assisted his family and set up college funds and financial support through Whitacre’s prison term.
- God gave him another job. On the day he left prison, Whitacre was hired by Paul Willis, CEO of Cypress Systems, a biotech firm. Today, Whitacre sits on the Board of Cypress Systems and is Executive Director of Coca-Cola Consolidated.2
Mark Whitacre is sharing his dramatic story at Connect Silicon Valley’s Annual Breakfast (Virtual Edition) on Saturday, October 3, 2020. This event begins at 8:30am Pacific Standard Time. There is no fee. (If you miss it, a recording of the session will be on connect.sv website following the event.)
Is there forgiveness and restoration after a $9.5M sin (or any sin)? Absolutely!
“Wisdom builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down… There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” – Proverbs 14:1, 12
1 NOTE: The Informant! is the name of a 1998 movie starring Matt Damon about Mark Whitacre and the FBI sting on the ADM price-fixing scheme.
2 Adapted from, Shhh…The Mark Whitacre Story, by Mark Whitacre, PhD., markwhitacre.com