Few people’s life stories are as spectacular as Mark Whitacre's to merit a Hollywood movie and a Discovery Channel documentary. With a cinematic landscape characterized by excesses of wealth, power, and corporate greed, and a thrilling fall and redemption arc, it’s hard not to be enthralled. Today, Mark joins us to tell his remarkable story.
In this first episode of a two-part interview, we'll hear how God radically intervened in his life, from a university student who rejected faith to becoming an ultra-successful corporate executive and eventually getting caught up in a massive price-fixing case and becoming the highest-level corporate executive in U.S. history to become an FBI whistleblower. Listen as he reflects on his journey to the top of the biotech industry, his rise at ADM, Archer-Daniels-Midland achieving opulent material wealth and success to his downfall as we end this episode with Mark preparing to serve his eight-and-a-half year prison sentence.
Key Points From This Episode:
“Greed blinds you.”
“I couldn't understand how she was always so content with what she had. What I wanted was more and more.”
“Prison is going to be the beginning of your life. And you're going to find your true purpose in life with the journey you're ready to start.”
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:
The Kingdom Investor Podcast on LinkedIn
About Mark Whitacre
Mark Whitacre is the highest-level executive to ever turn whistleblower in U.S. history. His undercover work with the FBI during the Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) scandal was the inspiration for the major motion picture, "The Informant," starring Matt Damon as Mark Whitacre and was the inspiration for the Discovery Channel Documentary, titled "Undercover". Drawing from his unique history, Mark provides one-of-a-kind insight into corporate ethics, corporate greed, and the warning signs of flawed corporate leadership.
ANNOUNCER: Imagine taking your generosity to the next level, impacting more lives, and leaving a godly legacy for generations to come. Get ideas and strategies to do just that when you listen to these personal stories from high-level Kingdom champions.
The Kingdom Investor Podcast showcases business leaders who have moved from success to significance, sharing how they use worldly wealth for kingdom impact. Discover how they grew in generosity, impacted more lives, and built godly legacies. You'll find motivation, inspiration, and practical steps to grow as a Kingdom Investor.
Daniel White (DW): Hello, and welcome to The Kingdom Investor Podcast. I'm your host Daniel White. Hello, and welcome to The Kingdom Investor Podcast. This is your host Daniel White. Today, we interview Mark Whitacre. Mark's life story is so incredible that they made a movie out of it starring Matt Damon as Mark Whitacre. Mark is currently the Executive Director of Coca-Cola Consolidated. He has a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry from Cornell University and has been blessed with an incredible wife, Ginger. In this two-part episode, Mark tells us how he went from having his own private jet to eight years in prison, and how God has transformed him and redeemed his life in the process.
If you enjoy this episode, please share us with your friends, and write us a review. And without further ado, let's jump right into the show.
DW: Mark Whitacre, welcome to The Kingdom Investor Podcast. How are you doing today?
Mark Whitacre (MW): Good. Good. Thank you for having me, Daniel. Look forward to being able to share today.
DW: Absolutely. I've been looking forward to this episode all week. And just so thankful that you are coming on the show and willing to spend your time with us and share your story. So I wanted to ask if you would just maybe share a little bit about who Mark Whitacre is.
MW: Yeah, I would say, got a tremendous passion for the whole Faith at Work, the Faith at Work movement, integrating Faith at Work, what we also call as Business as a Mission. And I've had that passion for the last couple of decades. But I'm sure had a different passion in my 30s. It's amazing, where God, where I, was in my 30s and then I got to know God and became a follower of Jesus and in the journey I've been on the last 30 years.
DW: Yeah, and I'm excited to, you know, see, just hear, you know, that incredible story that you shared with me when we first met about your life, really kind of before and after Christ because it is a really cool testimony and story. But before we get into that, I wanted to ask you, how was it having Matt Damon play you in The Informant?
MW: Well, he's my identical twin. I think your listeners can concede that we look just alike. So, I say that jokingly, in a joking way. But you know, we had a chance to share our testimony with him too. In the Hollywood version of the story, the director was an atheist so he wasn't interested in the redemption story. He wanted a crime drama and everybody in prison. So it captured where I was probably at age 32. But I'm in my, I'm 65 years of age now. So it definitely missed the last 30 years of the story that we have a chance to share today. But it was interesting to meet Matt Damon and to meet his wife. My wife was also pretty engaged in talking with his wife and I think they were, Matt Damon and his wife, Luciana, were very encouraged to see a marriage survive all that it survived.
DW: Yeah, that's really, really inspiring. So hey, before we jump into, I guess, Part A of Matt Whitacre's pre-Christ story, would you pray for our listeners just this time?
MW: Yeah, absolutely. Father, what a blessing it is to be able to share here today, Father. And I just thank you for the story that you've given me the last 30 years and I pray for the listeners, Father that if any of those or that don't know you, Father, I pray that they will get to know you. When they hear what you've done in my life and my family's life. And for the ones that do know you Father, I just pray that we just have a tremendous passion to continue to serve you, Father after they hear, hear one of the stories of where you took life from ashes to beauty. So I thank you for our time today, Father, and just what a blessing it is to serve you and I pray all this in Jesus' strong name. Amen.
DW: Amen. Thank you, Mark. All right. So take us back to kind of the beginning and let's hear your story.
MW: Yeah, grew up near the Cincinnati area, north of Cincinnati, a real small town, a thousand people town. I was the only child to go to college out of four in my family on a full scholarship, went to and got my Bachelor's and Master's at Ohio State University, and got my Ph.D. in biochemistry from Cornell University. And my mom said, I went and got a degree for everybody in the family on a full scholarship for eight years. And I will say this, you know, looking back, I graduated from Cornell with my Ph.D. in 1983. I would have been 25 years of age then. And it was when the biotech industry was exploding. Gentech was starting, the job opportunities were just tremendous at that time to have a Ph.D. in the biotech field.
But I will say this, during my eight years in a secular university, and my parents were Christians and went to church with my parents, I would say probably I was forced to go to church as a youngster. But, I will say those eight years in college, especially in the sciences, took me away from exploring God, for sure. I can remember professors even saying especially more in the Ivy League during my Ph.D. at Cornell. I remember professors saying, if you're a Christian, you can't be a Ph.D. scientist. You're a Christian, you can't be in my class. So, I will say, I never met one Christian professor during my eight years of college. So, if there was one, they were in the closet. So I will say I finished my eight years of education as an atheist, not believing in God. And I finished my years of college thinking that if you're a Ph.D. scientist, you can't believe in God. It's evolution, and Big Bang Theory and Darwinism. And that's what I learned for eight years.
But it's amazing how things changed as, as time went on. So I entered that biotech world when it was exploding, not as a Christian, obviously, as an atheist. And, and I thought, my parents when I finished Cornell, I thought my parents were Christian because they didn't go to college. And I recall telling my friends that, yeah, my parents pray a lot and they're Christians but they never went to college so they don't know better. Because that's the way I learned during my eight years of education. So, the job market was amazing. When I got out, I remember my wife and I bought a big home right when I finished up at age 25, and first time having a second car after being married and you know, just finished college and first time having a washer and dryer instead of going to the laundromat.
It was such a change, just a rapid change. And that was age 25. By the time I was 32, I was divisional president. Seven years from the time I graduated, divisional president in one of the largest companies in the world, known as ADM, Archer-Daniels-Midland, $70 billion in revenue, 30,000 employees, number 56 on the Fortune 500. Our CEO was 75 years old, our president was 69 and I was 32. That's the age of the three executives above me, I was ranked number four executive in the company. At that time, the divisional president of the biotech division of ADM, Archer-Daniels-Midland, number 56 on the Fortune 500. We were with those $70 billion in revenue that I mentioned. And, I was the corporate vice president of the company, so the divisional president of one of the fastest growing divisions and corporate vice president of the whole company. And my first week working there is October 1989. So we're talking well over three decades ago.
MW: And in the first week, the CEO gave me a corporate Jana Falcon 50, the seven top executives each had their own jet. This is my first week working there being ranked number four, and the seven top executives are each getting one of the seven jets. I had my own jet. And I had that position for eight years. So, I had my own Falcon 50, get to travel anywhere I needed, wanted to travel to on business. And within a couple of weeks time, I bought the house that the CEO had lived in for almost 30 years. He was a billionaire, owned 5% of ADM, the largest single shareholder, he was. I'm talking about the 75-year-old CEO at this point. And he wanted to move to something smaller so I ended up buying his house. My third week living there, with the startup bonus that they gave me that was the down payment, and it was a 13,000 square-foot-house with an eight-car garage, horse riding stables where my children can ride in an inside horse arena in the wintertime. Located in Decatur, Illinois so there is an inside arena when it's cold outside.
We were about three hours south of Chicago, it is where ADM's headquarters are, and also three golf greens on the property amidst the mansion. I'm talking about a very colonial, built in 1846. That was the original house of John Daniels, the founder of Archer-Daniels-Midland 100 years earlier. And then it was the home of Dwayne Andreas, who lived there for about 30 years and was the CEO when I joined the company. So I've done like you live in this home you originally gonna be the CEO of ADM, Archer-Daniels-Midland and that was the home I bought my first month working there. And I tell you, it's probably the best way to describe it. I was Justin Bieber before Justin Bieber. I mean, the jet, the mansion, the bonuses I was getting, they were seven figures. My base salary was six figures but with the bonuses and stock options, it was seven figures. For the eight years I was there, it was seven figures each year. So I was making $2 or $3 million a year, I had the eight-car garage filled quickly with eight cars, a Ferrari, two BMWs, two Mercedeses, and so on.
And I wonder why my wife was so happy driving a 10-year-old Jeep Cherokee. Why she was so happy driving that and she always said she wanted to be a good steward for God. She became a Christian at age 30. So, by the time I started working there, she was a Christian. I met my wife when she was in seventh grade and I was in eighth grade. We went to our high school proms together. So, we're highschool sweethearts, she went to Ohio State when I also went to Ohio State before we got married right before I went to Cornell to get my PhD. When she came became a Christian at age 30, her mom got real ill, was in the hospital at age 52. For almost 10 or 11 months, her mom was during the journey, Ginger became a Christian.
So, she was a Christian at that time. And as a scientist, I couldn't believe in God and I just, every once in a while I would mention I said, you know, I learned to do the opposite. When I was in, in college, you know, for those eight years when I was in the sciences, and Ginger would tell me, she said, well, she believes in God. She knows God exists. She could believe in her heart, she had the Holy Spirit in her heart. And I was so addicted to my work. And the more I worked, the more performance bonuses I would get because 90% of my income was in bonuses. So therefore, as long as she was busy, I was happy. But I could not understand why she believed in God.
I had a red Ferrari, I said to Ginger, I'm happy to buy you a yellow one. And she said, no, you know what, my jeep is doing just fine, my 10-year-old Jeep. And I couldn't understand how she was always so content with what she had. What I wanted was more and more. I just couldn't understand that until later in life.
So, we're a couple of years with the company now. I was obsessed with the company, obsessed with my work, it became almost an addiction. Ginger was very active with the church and her women's group and Bible studies on Monday and Thursday evenings and I go to church with them just like my parents forced me to go to church. I go with her and the kids but it was one ear and out the other. I was not listening and she was so engaged in church. And like I said, I was happy with that because it allowed me to work more because I saw that she was so busy with the church and with their Bible study, women's groups.
A couple of years with the company, to fast forward, now I'm 34 years of age, the CEO is now 77, the President is now 71. So everybody's aged a couple of years and the vice chairman came back to my office and gave me this huge bonus, gave me lots of stock, more stock, and gave me a $100,000 check. Almost that day alone was like a million dollars, just that day alone, in April '92. He said, Mark, now you're part of the family. You've been with us for a couple of years, and we trust you completely. We're going to start sharing with you some things that how we do business. And I started thinking, well, I've been here two years, I know how you're doing business. I'm the corporate vice president company. He said no, I'm gonna share some things with you that we've not shared.
And he started sharing how they were working with their competitors for well over a decade in fixing prices of ingredients. And he didn't use these words, but he was describing the international cartel. A price (garbled speech) which is highly illegal because of antitrust laws. And he started describing that that's been going over a decade. He said now that they trust me and because of the age of the other ones above me, that at some point, I'm going to have to take over this international cartel. So, they needed to bring me into the loop and start mentoring me on how to do this. And the first thing I brought up I said, well, that's illegal to do that. They said, Mark, it's illegal but the politicians that put antitrust laws on the book, they didn't know anything about business. They did that in the 1800s. And they said Mark, I can tell you for a fact if you're in the commodities business, this is the way you have to do business.
And here I thought I'm less than a decade out of Cornell at that point, out of college. They've been doing this for three, four decades. This must be how the real world works, that's what I thought. And they just gave me a million dollars an hour earlier. So, I just, I sold my soul. I was hook, line and sinker, all in. And, I thought, well, this is how the world works. They described 11 other companies involved. So I thought, well, everybody must be doing this. So I got involved with the price-fixing scheme. I started being mentored. I just couldn't walk away from all the compensation. I knew if I said no, my future there was finished. How can you move up if I'm not willing to be mentored by the top executives of the company to eventually take their place? That I had to be mentored if I'm going to continue to move up the ladder. So, I didn't have a choice, either leave the company or do it. And I was not willing to walk away from all those bells and whistles that I had the jet, the mansion, and the lifestyle that I had.
So, a few months later. Ginger's talk. We're having a conversation. And the FBI, when I started with ADM, the FBI was helping with the Chicago Board of Trade case. As soon as I started, I mean, the FBI was consistently at ADM and assisting with the smaller cases. And it was kind of odd because here, they're helping us with cases. And then, there's huge price-fixing cases going on right under their noses, which is a lot larger than the cases that they were ever helping with. And they were helping with a contamination case where they were working with ADM and helping us because ADM is the largest company in Decatur, Illinois. 80,000 people live in Decatur, Illinois, 30,000 people work for ADM. So it's kind of a company town. And so the FBI did do some work to help ADM when ADM had some challenges, especially if it was breaking federal laws, when things were stolen and going across state lines and things of that sort.
And so, I was telling Ginger, I said it's kind of odd that here we are, FBI helping us. There's a huge case. And I said I'm always nervous to talk to the FBI because I know I got this big private, this big price-fixing case that we're engaged with. And she said, what do you mean, price0fixing case? And I said, well, the last seven months, they're mentoring me to take over the cartel they've been having for well over a decade. And I've been involved for the last seven months. And I started sharing with their mentors. I've known gender since seventh grade. And I just started sharing with Ginger what they were mentoring. I've known Ginger since seventh grade and I just started sharing what was going on. She said, Mark, is that legal? And I said, well, Ginger it is not legal but they told me everybody does it. If you're in the commodity business, this is what you have to do.
And she said, how much does the company earned by doing this, this fraud? And I said, well, we were $70 billion in revenue, about $4 billion in profit. I think we make hundreds of millions of dollars extra profit, sometimes a billion dollars a year extra profit from the price fixing. So it could be 10% to 20%, even 25% of our profits. So, it's one of the reasons why our stock price continues to increase as fast as it does. And we were doubling our stock every three or four years at this point. This would have been 1992. And, and she said, Mark, who pays that extra billion dollars a year or hundreds of millions of dollars a year that the company is earning from the cartel? And I said well, basically the consumers do because our customers are Kraft and Pillsbury and Tyson Foods and beverage companies like iced teas and orange juices and, and, and sodas and Coca Cola and so on. I said they're our customers because we're the largest food additive company in the world.
So, basically, they, Kraft or Kellogg's pays higher for an ingredient, they have their profit margin built in, they're going to just charge it's going to be a higher price cereal, or a higher-priced processed food or beverage in the grocery store. So, I said the consumer really pays it. And she said, you mean my grandma, $200 a week social security and her largest expenses are groceries. She's paying for this and we live in a mansion with an eight-car garage. She said Mark, I can't believe you're involved with a fraud like this. She said it just breaks my heart that you would get involved. Well, I said, Ginger, we make millions of dollars. We live in a mansion. Our kids go to private schools. I'm flying around the last couple of years in a corporate jet. I'm probably going to be eventually the next CEO. I'm already a divisional president and a corporate vice president. I'm gonna be eventually the next COO or CEO of this company someday. I'm half the age of the executives above me and this is what I have to do to move up.
And she said, you know what, Mark, I'd rather have a 2,000 square foot house, a Ford in the driveway and have my husband back. She said, you've sold your life to this company. And I don't even spend time with her, our three young children. And she said, you've become addicted to this company. And all these, this materialism and power. And she said I just wasn't the person she fell in love with in high school and in college. And I was hurt to hear all that. Obviously, you hear all that but it was true, but it was hurtful to hear it.
And she said, how long has the case been going on? I said, well, they've been doing this cartel for almost 12 years. And I've been involved seven months. Now that I'm part of the family and they trust me, they brought me into it. And she said, Mark, she said, I don't know if I can live with this. She said, our own family, her dad works at a factory, her mom works at Procter Gamble, her dad works at Ford, her grandma's on social security. As she said, they're all paying these higher food prices because of what we're doing at ADM, the largest food additive company in the world.
And she asked me, does the whole company know about this? I said, well, no, obviously not the whole company. I said most employees are coming to work, doing the right thing, morally and ethically every day. It's just a few top executives that are involved, a handful. 21:07 So it's not the whole company, but it's the top executives that are part of this and, and she said, well, I'm gonna have to pray about this. We'll talk about it later. But I want to pray about it. And she went to her study, and she prayed for a couple of hours. And she came back out. It's November 5th 1992. I'm 34 years of age, she's 33. Two years at ADM at that point. And she said Mark, God led me to a decision. God has given me clarity. And I'd say good 'cause I've got to get back to my price-fixing meeting today. Because a lot of these meetings are, Asia is 12 hours ahead of us. So seven or eight o'clock in the evening at Decatur, Illinois, seven or eight in the morning in South Korea and Singapore and Japan where our competitors were located. And she said, well, I don't think you're going to be having any meetings here today. She said, God's lead me, you've got to turn yourself in to the FBI. And you got to do it today.
MW: I said Ginger, I could go to prison for breaking antitrust laws. It's a federal violation. I said our CEO is a billionaire. He's best friends with President Clinton. He owns 5% of a $70 billion company, the largest single shareholder of the company. I said he will destroy us. I said he's on the phone on a regular basis with President Clinton. He flew to President Nixon's funeral on President Clinton's plane. I said, this is a good friend of the US President. I said they will destroy us. And she said, You know what, Mark, God will protect us. She said, I don't think you'll go to prison, you're only involved seven months and it's been going on for a decade. But if you do, I'll stay with you. But we're going to do it and we're going to do it today. And there's no discussion about it. I'd rather be homeless, she said, than live in a house where illegal activities are going.
And she said, God put it in her heart to turn me in today. And I said Ginger, we talked for a couple of hours. And we argued and it was a very heated discussion. But that very day, the very FBI that was assisting with us on a contamination case and other cases, even prior to that, ADM, I was sharing with them that ADM is even doing a bigger case right under their noses. And Ginger was sitting by my side and I kept telling the FBI, they've got a lot more bigger things to do. They got drug dealers, syndicators, there's a lot bigger things they can be doing than talking to me. And they said what are we talking about? And I said, like I said, you got a lot more important things to do than talk to me. And Ginger said, it's a billion dollar. He said, a million dollars? She said, no, a billion-dollar case. He said a billion dollars. He said, how long has that been going on? And I said, you got drug dealers, syndicators. You got all this going on. I can't imagine we'd be important but this has been going on for 12 years.
So, Ginger shared all the truth of what was going on and this became the largest price-fixing case in US history. Started by a stay-at-home mom raising three young children. A case that was going on for over a decade, a case that involve hundreds of millions of dollars, theft every year, and sometimes a billion dollars, up to a billion dollars a year, started by my wife, Ginger. So if there's anybody, a true whistleblower, it's her not me. And it didn't that Ginger acted like my attorney. She said, look, Mark did the right thing. He's only involved a few months, we go home now, right?
The FBI said look, not too fast. Ginger thought they would just tap, we've thought they just tap phones and do whatever they do. We didn't know I would have to do anything in assisting them. But they said, Mark, either you start wearing a wire tomorrow or to be arrested today. And, that's how I became an FBI informant. The next day I met the FBI at six in the morning. They shaved my chest, they put microphones on my chest. And I was wired up and wore a wire for the FBI every day, Monday through Friday, every day, for three years 1992 to 1995, involving one of the biggest international cartel cases in history. At the time, it was the biggest, at that time.
And so, I've been wearing a wire every day from that point, started in 1992. And they had a green lamp that had a video camera in it, it is a green lamp looks like it came from a yard sale. And I would tell the FBI where the meeting was, that next cartel meeting was going to happen, and they would make sure this green lamp would get in the room. And they could control from the next room through a monitor watching on a computer screen. They could control the camera and zoom in on whoever was talking. If someone's writing on, there was not a whiteboard back then, it was a flip chart. If someone's writing on a flip chart, they would zoom in what was being written, you know, as we're giving up the market, telling which company is going to take Tyson Foods, which was taking Perdue Farms and you know, surgically just putting up the market in order to drive the prices up.
Sometimes threefold, fourfold, five-fold, where each company was making hundreds of millions of dollars a year extra. Not just ADM, but each company in this international cartel. So, this green lamp had a video camera and I remember it being in the Shangri La Hotel in Singapore, they even had to put the voltage changed to take it from 110 volts to 220 volts and I remember it being in there, five feet from everybody, eleven people in the room and this green lamp is in there. A few weeks later it's at the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong, same eleven guys, same lamp, five feet from. A few weeks after, it's at the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago, and then at Sheraton Hotel in Maui. That green lamp was at two or three meetings a month. The same co-defendants for three years.
DW: Oh my gosh. They didn't change the color of the lamp.
MW: No, same lamp, same lamp. And I tell ya, I look back and I say thank God there was not a woman criminal among us because I'm convinced if there was a woman she would have said this green lamp is following us around the world. But it also showed me, Daniel that greed blinds you. They saw that millions of dollars of bonuses that each were going to get that they didn't see what was sitting five feet from them that no matter what country they were in, it was the same lamp right there, five feet from their face.
Greed absolutely blinds you. And I saw it firsthand as an informant. So this happened for three years. FBI was so appreciative, they would wire me up and they started this the first few weeks. They said Mark, this is dangerous. If one of, this is a cartel that's involved in billions of dollars, it's involving international people around the world, people are likely going to go to prison. They're going to pay hundreds of millions, if not more in fines in class action suits, that if they catch you wearing a wire, your life could be in danger. And I started hearing that my first couple of weeks, people thought I had cancer, I started losing lots of weight. People thought I was sick at work. I mean, I was falling apart. I was blowing the driveway off at three in the morning with a gas leaf blower during thunderstorms. I was absolutely falling apart. The most stressful years of my life thinking, what are they going to do if they catch me wearing a wire? And then I thought what are they going to do when I'm in a federal trial, a witness against them.
And I thought these guys are going to absolutely kill me. And it was just the most stress in my life. The FBI was so appreciative of me wearing a wire for so long, they got me a full immunity agreement not to be charged for those seven months where I was involved before, you know, I shared with the FBI. So never do one day in prison, never become a felon, and never be part of this case except a witness in the case, because they were so appreciative. All I had to do is stand on my own way, and never to be charged.
Now a few months before the case came to an end. They told me it's the last few months, they have almost all the evidence they need, multiple products started being involved. That's why it took so long. People would brag about through illegal activity. You know, it started off a lysine case, and people started bragging about price fixing on citric acid and then it became another ingredient, then lactic acid. It just became multiple frauds and multiple products and multiple cases by people bragging about and that's why it became almost three years wearing a wire at that time.
So, the FBI told me it was coming to an end. I looked at, well, how am I going to keep up, I'm addicted to that lifestyle at that point. I mean, the mansion, the jet, the horse, the horses, the riding stables, the country clubs. I couldn't imagine life not like that. And so I started thinking, how am I going to keep this standard of living? When the FBI told me it's coming to an end, that I'm likely going to lose my job because when they learned that I'm wearing a wire, they're going to ask me to leave. I'll be fired that day so I had to prepare for that. Then I thought, who's gonna hire somebody who wore a wire for three years against their own company?
It's always easier to get a job as a felon than someone who wore a wire against their own company. I said, and I'm still in my 30s, I was 38 at that point. I said, it's going to take me years to get back on my feet. And I thought, well, how am I going to keep the standard of living during those years when I don't have a job. And I started looking, you know, kind of looking at my cows, how much money I had saved, I looked at my stock options, there was one set of stock options, it was $9 million. It was about a year from being exercised, where I can exercise them. So I was going to get fired by the year before the exercise date because it had a five-year exercise date. And for that particular set of stock options, I was about four years into it. So, I couldn't exercise those. And I'm not going to be able to exercise it because I'm gonna be fired.
So I decided, you know, I think I've got a Ph.D. from Cornell. I'm the smartest guy in the room at the time, I'm just telling you what I was thinking. I was under a lot of pressure, standing up two or three in the morning, not sleeping at night for three years, and not thinking clearly. And I wrote five checks over a couple of months to myself for $9 million. Thinking if it ever came up, I got stock options signed by the general counsel, stock options signed by the CEO of the company, there will be $9 million.
And then, you know, a jury or federal authorities could say well, why would you cash them early? Well, I'm working for the FBI and I will get fired before I could exercise them. What jury would not be sympathetic to that? I was thinking. So I wrote the five checks, thinking I'm the smartest guy in the room at $9 million to get back on my feet and had some other money saved too over those years prior to this point. The day that ADM learned that I was the mole, that I was the one wired, the very day, they called the FBI and said, look, Mark Whitacre is not the white knight informant. He stole $9 million from us at the same time he's working for the FBI.
And so the FBI show up at my house and they have Ginger and I in the family room. And they asked, what about this $9 million? And I share with them, well, they owe me that. I have stock options to justify that. And I show the stock options, I have everything ready and all my evidence and then, and Mark, you can't exercise stock options a year early. The Securities Exchange, the SEC has rules and regulations and laws. That's what exercise dates are about. Who knows what that stock price would even be a year from now? May have been higher, may have been lower, but you got to exercise them when they can be exercised. That's what that date is.
That means when those stocks are vested based on the number of years that that stock option was granted. You just can't write checks to yourself. That's, that's that. So we understand your logic but you can't do it that way. You're going to lose your immunity agreement. They said, Mark, we're going to go to the federal authority prosecutors, and we're going to meet with them and we're going to pick the best plea agreement we can get for you. Because we knew you were under pressure. We understand your logic of what you were thinking behind it. But you still broke the law. It's still, it's embezzlement, it's fraud, it's that.
You can't cash your stock options on your own. There's a process as you've always used years earlier, you've got to follow that process. And just because you're an informant, you can't change the process. So, they went to federal authorities. My lawyer called me in Chicago to come into Chicago, I was already fired from the company, obviously, the day they learned that I was the informant. And their attorney said, Mark, the FBI got you six months. They're gonna give you a three-year plea agreement, three years, but they're gonna go in front of the judge and ask for mitigating circumstances, all the help you gave, wore a wire for three years. And they're going to ask for six months and you're probably going to get very likely, six months. Six months in federal prison. You go in today at 38, you come out at 38. Deal of a lifetime, Mark, for this $9 million mistake. Deal of a lifetime. And this is all because of your cooperation. You're getting this deal.
Ginger looked at me and she said Mark, I beg you to sign this. I looked at Ginger and I said Ginger, you're the reason I'm in this mess in the first place. I said Ginger, I've had to wear a wire for three years because of you. I ripped at that plea agreement, fired the lawyer who recommended it and fought the case. Hired new lawyers the next day, and fought the case in the courts for three years to get eight and a half years in prison instead.
DW: Oh, my goodness.
MW: And, I had a six-month plea agreement in my hands. Six months and I went to eight and a half years. Pulled my car in one of those garages, wrote a 17-page letter to Ginger, my three children and I tried to kill myself. I couldn't imagine, I went from full immunity that I had to a six-month plea agreement which was a deal of a lifetime. And now eight and a half years for all the mistakes I made. And this is three years after fighting in court. So, now I'm 40 years of age. I would have went at 38, got out at 38. Now, I'm 40 and not getting out until age 49. And so I tried to take my own life.
I was hospitalized for a month, treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, had to see psychiatrists every day for quite a while, true for PTSD. So things that happen when you wear a wire for three years. And I mean, I was a basket case. But I still had to show up for prison at seven months before I had to show up at prison for eight and a half, for eight and a half years, seven months to get back on my feet. And someone read about that in the newspaper, everything that I just shared to your listeners. And someone read about it and his name was Ian House. He was CEO of a biotech company, five young children school age and younger, a couple of them adopted. His wife is an attorney, God put it on his heart to reach out to me. And he reached out to me, someone I didn't know. And he said, Mark, prison is going to be the beginning of your life. And you're going to find your true purpose in life with the journey, you're ready to start.
MW: And I'm thinking I'm about to go to prison for eight and a half years, how can he be thinking this way? I said, this guy's crazier than I am. I remember telling my wife this guy's crazier than I am. And she said, she said that can't be. And then, I told her when he said that prison will be the beginning of my life. And Ginger fell to her knees and she said, Mark, I've been praying for you for 10 years. And your parents had been praying for you their whole lives. She said, I pray you go out, listen to this man that God sent. Because you haven't listened to us. But I pray you go listen to this man because God sent this man. And she was in tears.
And I went out and I said, Ian, what do you have in mind? He said, I'm going to introduce you to God. I'm going to introduce you to Jesus. And I said, Ian, I've been going to church almost my whole life, with my parents, as a youngster, and with Ginger these last several years. And so I've already gone to church. He said, Mark, I'm not talking about going to church. I'm talking about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And I said, Ian, how do you do that?
[END OF PART 1]
DW: This concludes part one of two.
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