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The Informant, FBI informant or hidden accomplice?

Updated on August 12, 2014

Who knows what goes on in the hearts of man?

One of the most intriguing parts of our legal system is even when the courts have proof that a suspect committed a crime there also needs to be motive for a conviction. It is not enough to know that someone did something illegal, the courts also need to know why. What happens when the legal system cannot determine a motive to a crime? Mark Whitacre, an executive at an extremely powerful company, posed just that problem to the FBI in what was one of the largest and most confusing cases of the century.

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The Story

Mark Whitacre is probably best summarized as a mixture between genius and pathological liar. Through sheer genius and talent he was able to work himself up the ladder at one of the largest food manufacturing and food additive companies in the world. But once Mark Whitacre became an executive everything seemed to change.

Perhaps the pressure to deliver results was too much for him, for when he was not able to deliver key results he made up unbelievable stories of conspiracies and even blackmail to his leadership. They took his stories seriously and brought in the FBI to help investigate. While the FBI performed a cursory investigation and was ready to close the case for lack of evidence, Mark came out to the FBI and started to offer unbelievable information on the most extensive and egregious price fixing rackets in history. This began a multi-year rollercoaster investigation where Mark went from eager and willing FBI informant recording hundreds of meetings, to reluctant and fearful co-conspirator, to delusional corporate traitor expecting to be rewarded by being made CEO once former one was arrested, and finally to suspect and accomplice in theft of millions of dollars.

Even today there is still confusion on Mark’s true motives not to mention his actions surrounding his theft of millions of dollars. One thing is true, it is a remarkable and fascinating story.

My overall thoughts on this book

Kurt Eichenwald does an amazing job telling a confusing story and many times technical story to a lay audience. The history of food additives is confusing (and for those who never realized what is in our food, a bit scary) with a large cast of players in many companies around the world. Leaders at some of the most respected companies in the world schemed together to milk billions of dollars from consumers of almost every food product purchased today. Reading about this will force every reader to look differently at companies they might have previously respected. A great story I recommend to everyone.

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