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 from Mississippi. He served as the Secretary of Agriculture from 1993 to 1994. He was the first African American Secretary of Agriculture.
Espy was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi. He is the grandson of Thomas J. Huddleston, Sr., 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 in Washington, D.C., majoring in law. Espy earned his Juris Doctor from the Santa Clara University School of Law 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.
He became assistant state Attorney General from 1984 to 1985. Espy was then elected as a Democrat to the 100th Congress 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. He served as Secretary of Agriculture in 1993–1994.
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 and on December 2, 1998 he was acquitted of all 30 criminal charges in the trial. Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz 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.”  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 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. 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, 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.
|United States House of Representatives|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi’s 2nd congressional district
Edward R. Madigan
|United States Secretary of Agriculture
Served under: Bill Clinton