Court Sets Aside Fine Against Sun-Diamond
An appeals court set aside the $1.5-million criminal fine levied on Sun-Diamond Growers of California for giving gifts to former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy. The court upheld four related convictions. Sun-Diamond’s 1996 fine arose from the probe by independent counsel Donald C. Smaltz into gifts that large agribusinesses gave Espy when he was President Clinton’s secretary of Agriculture. The appeals court ordered a new trial on the charge that Sun Diamond, a fruit-and-nut cooperative based in Pleasanton, illegally gave Espy nearly $6,000 in meals and gifts. It upheld convictions related to $4,000 in illegal contributions Sun-Diamond made through lobbyists to help retire a campaign debt of Espy’s brother, Henry. The three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held that the trial judge had improperly instructed the jury on the illegal gratuity count. It also ordered the judge to recalculate the $1.5-million fine he imposed last May for all five convictions.