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Mike Espy

Mike Espy

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Alphonso Michael "Mike" Espy (born November 30, 1953) is a former United States political figure. From 1987 to 1993, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives
United States House of Representatives
The United States House of Representatives is one of the two Houses of the United States Congress, the bicameral legislature which also includes the Senate.The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the Constitution...

 from Mississippi
Mississippi is a U.S. state located in the Southern United States. Jackson is the state capital and largest city. The name of the state derives from the Mississippi River, which flows along its western boundary, whose name comes from the Ojibwe word misi-ziibi...

. He served as the Secretary of Agriculture from 1993 to 1994. He was the first African American Secretary of Agriculture. As of 2006, Mike Espy's son
Mike Espy (American football)
Michael William Alexander Espy is an American football wide receiver who is currently a free agent. He was originally signed by the Washington Redskins as an undrafted free agent in 2006...

, who shares his name, is a professional football player, and is currently a free agent.

Early life

Espy was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi
Yazoo City, Mississippi
Yazoo City is a city in Yazoo County, Mississippi, United States. It was named after the Yazoo River, which, in turn was named by the French explorer Robert La Salle. It is the county seat of Yazoo County and the principal city of the Yazoo City Micropolitan Statistical Area, which is part of the...

. He is the grandson of Thomas J. Huddleston, Sr.
T. J. Huddleston, Sr.
T. J. Huddleston, Sr. was a prominent African American entrepreneur and community leader in Mississippi. He owned dozens of funeral homes in Mississippi. He was the grandfather of former U.S...

, the founder of the Afro-American Sons and Daughters, a fraternal society that operated the Afro-American Hospital. The hospital was a leading provider of health care for blacks in the state from the 1920s until the 1970s.

He attended Howard University
Howard University
Howard University is a federally chartered, non-profit, private, coeducational, nonsectarian, historically black university located in Washington, D.C., United States...

 in Washington, D.C., majoring in law. Espy earned his Juris Doctor
Juris Doctor
Juris Doctor is a professional doctorate and first professional graduate degree in law.The degree was first awarded by Harvard University in the United States in the late 19th century and was created as a modern version of the old European doctor of law degree Juris Doctor (see etymology and...

 from the Santa Clara University School of Law
Santa Clara University School of Law
The Santa Clara University School of Law is the law school of Santa Clara University, a Jesuit university in Santa Clara, California, in the Silicon Valley region. The School of Law was founded in 1911...

 in California in 1978. He was an attorney with Central Mississippi Legal Services between 1978 and 1980 and was later the assistant secretary of state to Mississippi Legal Services. Espy was the assistant secretary of the state's Public Lands Division from 1980 to 1984.

Political career

He became assistant state Attorney General from 1984 to 1985. Espy was then elected as a Democrat to the 100th Congress
100th United States Congress
-House of Representatives:- Senate :* President: George H.W. Bush * President pro tempore: John Stennis - Majority leadership :* Majority Leader, Democratic Conference Chairman, and Democratic Policy Committee Chairman: Robert Byrd...

 in 1986 and was re-elected to three succeeding Congresses, serving from January 3, 1987, until his resignation January 22, 1993, having been appointed Secretary of Agriculture in the Cabinet of President Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton
William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton is an American politician who served as the 42nd President of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Inaugurated at age 46, he was the third-youngest president. He took office at the end of the Cold War, and was the first president of the baby boomer generation...

. He served as Secretary of Agriculture in 1993–1994.

Espy crossed the partisan line to endorse Republican
Republican Party (United States)
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

Mississippi is a U.S. state located in the Southern United States. Jackson is the state capital and largest city. The name of the state derives from the Mississippi River, which flows along its western boundary, whose name comes from the Ojibwe word misi-ziibi...

 Governor Haley Barbour
Haley Barbour
Haley Reeves Barbour is an American Republican politician currently serving as the 63rd Governor of Mississippi. He gained a national spotlight in August 2005 after Mississippi was hit by Hurricane Katrina. Barbour won re-election as Governor in 2007...

 in his re-election campaign in November 2007.

Trial and acquittal

On August 27, 1997, Espy was indicted on charges of receiving improper gifts, including sports tickets, lodging, and airfare. Espy refused to plea bargain
Plea bargain
A plea bargain is an agreement in a criminal case whereby the prosecutor offers the defendant the opportunity to plead guilty, usually to a lesser charge or to the original criminal charge with a recommendation of a lighter than the maximum sentence.A plea bargain allows criminal defendants to...

 and on December 2, 1998 he was acquitted
In the common law tradition, an acquittal formally certifies the accused is free from the charge of an offense, as far as the criminal law is concerned. This is so even where the prosecution is abandoned nolle prosequi...

 of all 30 criminal charges in the trial. Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz
Donald Smaltz
Donald C. Smaltz is California lawyer who was appointed as Independent Counsel to investigate charges that Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy had received improper gifts from companies with business before his department.- Background :...

 presented more than 70 witnesses in the trial and spent more than $20 million preparing and trying the case.

The defense rested without calling witnesses, stating simply that the prosecution had not proved its case. The jury deliberated less than 10 hours before finding Espy not guilty on all charges. One of the jurors stated "This was the weakest, most bogus thing I ever saw. I can't believe Mr. Smaltz ever brought this to trial." At least four other jurors echoed this view, though with softer words.

During testimony before the jury, the prosecution's star witness told Smaltz in front of the jury: "God knows, if I had $30 million, I could find dirt on you, sir." http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/time/1998/12/07/independant.council.html
During the trial, Smaltz protested that the defense was injecting race into the trial in what he saw as an appeal to a mostly black jury. Barbara Bisoni, the only white juror, said Smaltz's case "had holes" and that race never entered into the two days of deliberations.

In December 1997, Tyson Foods
Tyson Foods
Tyson Foods, Inc. is a multinational corporation based in Springdale, Arkansas, that operates in the food industry. The company is the world's second largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef, and pork only behind Brazilian JBS S.A., and annually exports the largest percentage of beef out of...

 Inc., the nation's largest poultry processor, pleaded guilty to giving Espy more than $12,000 in illegal gifts, and agreed to pay $6 million in fines and investigative expenses.

In a similar case to Tyson Foods, Sun-Diamond was fined $1.5 million for giving $6,000 in gifts to Espy. Sun-Diamond won a reversal at the Court of Appeals. Independent Counsel appealed to the Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

. The Supreme Court, in affirming the decision of the Court of Appeals, found that the gratuities statute requires a link between a gift and an official act. Unable to make such a link, Independent Counsel dismissed the gratuities charge against Sun-Diamond. The unanimous opinion of the court, written by Justice Antonin Scalia
Antonin Scalia
Antonin Gregory Scalia is an American jurist who serves as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. As the longest-serving justice on the Court, Scalia is the Senior Associate Justice...

, stated that the prosecutor's interpretation of the law was so broad that even a high school principal could be in legal trouble for giving a souvenir baseball cap to a visiting Secretary of Education.

The Sun-Diamond decision played a pivotal role in the later acquittal of Mike Espy because Independent Counsel was unable to link gifts received by Espy to any official act.

External links

  • "OFFICE OF INDEPENDENT COUNSEL - Donald C. Smaltz." CyberCemetery - University of North Texas
    University of North Texas
    The University of North Texas is a public institution of higher education and research in Denton. Founded in 1890, UNT is part of the University of North Texas System. As of the fall of 2010, the University of North Texas, Denton campus, had a certified enrollment of 36,067...

     Libraries & U.S. Government Printing Office. Accessed January 3, 2009.