Joe and Mary  Ann Henrickson

For 15 years, Henrickson was a private pilot for Tyson Foods. His story about couriering envelopes of cash from Tyson executives to then-Governor Bill Clinton intrigued Donald Smaltz and ignited a jurisidictional confrontation between Smaltz and the Department of Justice.

You are a pilot and have been a pilot for how long?

Almost 30 years now since I took my first flying lesson....

You went to Tyson when--what year?

Let's see, that was April of '78.

By the early 80's you were flying?

Yes, I was flying probably, oh, the start of the 1980's.

And eventually rose up to be number two on the Tyson [pilot staff]

I was the number two pilot, yeah.... At the time I was there, I think we had ten pilots and three airplanes.

So what was the nature of the work? Why does a chicken-processing plant need three airplanes and ten pilots?

Most of them were used for customers. When you are trying to sell someone millions of dollars of chicken at a time... you try to impress them. You will send an airplane to their airport and you pick them up and you give them a first-class ride. It's better than a first-class airline. You take them right to our hangar and they pull up and walk in and see this dazzling white floors that look like you could eat off of them... You know it's a big wet bar in there. Everything you do, you are spending top dollar, you are doing everything to impress them. You give them a good time while they are there, let them stay at the lake house or wherever they want....

Did you have regular contact with Mr. Tyson?

Yes, from the first day I worked there.... When I used to clean his airplanes, he would ask me how my airplanes were. He would refer to them as my airplanes....

How did you come to leave his employ?

I was on a road trip one day. We were going to Cozumel, Mexico. We stopped in Little Rock to pick someone up and take on fuel. This was after one of the pilots had been fired. I said, "Don, I really need to talk to you about something." He said, "My door is always open to you, Joe. Give me a call when you get back from Mexico...." I set up an appointment with him and said I had something to talk to him about. He scheduled me an appointment. I don't know if we made the first one, but we at least made the second one. It was up at the office. This was after the pilot had been fired, and I went basically through the chain of command. I went to the chief pilot. I went to the director of human resources and got no satisfaction. I guess my big mistake was I didn't tell them I was going to talk to Don.

What was your interest? What was your beef in [the] firing of this pilot?

Well, this guy had been with us I think about three years. He was one of the younger pilots. He never made a big mistake. We all screw up. That's what flying is about. It is hard to do it perfectly. But as long as they are not major mistakes, no one really cares. We had an airplane down in the Arkansas, [where] the Raytheon corporate jets [are] now....

Out near Little Rock?

Yeah, it's right by the terminal building by the tower, and you will see it. We had an inspection airplane. It was there for about ten days. The... chief pilot, and this other pilot, Lon, went down to pick the airplane up. He waited around all day. It got into the evening so they went and ate dinner. They came back. The airplane had been released for maintenance. It had been outside now in the dark so Lon pre-flighted the airplane, and the chief pilot went up and filed a flight plan and hopped in and flew back to Fayetteville. No problem.

The next day another captain and the same co-pilot flew the airplane from Fayetteville to Little Rock to Miami and back to Little Rock and Fayetteville. The kid cleaning the airplane found inspection plates missing off the bottom of the wing, which was a big no-no. Basically that's leaving a hole in the bottom of your wing each way. The chief pilot said he had to fire the co-pilot who pre-flighted the airplane twice. My contention was the pilot in command had some responsibility for it. That's why we are a pilot in command. We sign off on the flight form. You are ultimately responsible. You delegate a job like pre-flighting to your co-pilot, but it is your responsibility to ensure that happened. That was the point I made.

So the nature of the dispute about which you wanted to speak with Mr. Tyson and sought this meeting... was a professional one.

Absolutely. I thought it was a matter of safety, personally.

You go up to him. You [set up] the meeting. You go into see him at his office there. What happened?

We sat down. We went into a little conference room and sat down at a big table and had a cup of coffee. I had a list of grievances; I met with all the pilots and we had made up a little list and I gave it to Don. He got down about three items on there and said, "Well, I will have to check into this. I am going to call this guy back up for a post-employment interview and check into your story and see." And he said, he told me sitting there at that meeting he said, "You get in an airplane and start the engines and I will fly with you." And the last thing he said was "This meeting between you and me never happened, and you have nothing to worry about." I guess I did have a lot to worry about because I believed him.


What happened?

I guess it was about a month and a half later, the chief pilot called me down. And I could tell that I was going to lose the job right then because I saw all the other pilots streaming out, going up highway 71 going north which told me they were all getting the hell out of Dodge which told me he had something dirty and nasty that he was going to do. He had a couple of security guards in there. I guess to protect him I guess he thought I would assault him or something. But he had me go in there and turn in my credit cards and my keys, the ultimate disgrace at Tyson Aviation. He told me to hit the road.

What was the explanation to you?

He told me I had a bad attitude for a long time at that point, and it wasn't getting any better, and he was going to have to let me go.

At that point, I assume you didn't just say "Well, OK, thank you and walk away. In fact you hired a lawyer ultimately and sued."

That's right.

On what grounds?

On wrongful termination. I mean I basically knew that Arkansas was a right-to-work state. It had been explained to me by some lawyers. He didn't have much choice. I thought it's the principle of the thing. Maybe we will get a good lawsuit going, and maybe this will change some day. But that was really optimistic. I should have seen the writing on the wall. It took this lawyer a year to even get those lawsuits generated you know.

You basically thought that you had piped up in defense of this junior pilot whom you believed had not been treated appropriately. In retaliation, you were terminated from your job?

Yes, I do.

Did you immediately get other work? Did you stay in Arkansas?

Well, I stayed there for a year or a year and a half, a full year. We finally left. I could get part-time work, you know, fill-in work. But there was none around in Arkansas. There was a little bit in Little Rock.

... [But] your other prospects certainly in Arkansas are scarce.

It was very dismal, yes.


You had basically a workers comp suit and a right to work suit, which didn't look great. The prospects were dismal. In this period you get a call from the office of the Independent Counsel.

Well, I got a call from an FBI agent in Fayetteville.... They talked to my attorney first who filed this long lawsuit. They want to know if it's OK to talk to me through her. She said yeah, it was OK. So they called me and said would you come down tomorrow morning and talk to us. I said yeah. I think it was a Sunday evening. So I said yeah, I will come on down.

You go and do you have any idea of what it was about?

I didn't have a clue what it was about.... Our attorney at the time... told us to come down to the office one day and she had something to talk to us about. So we took the kids with us and sat them down. She said, "No, the kids need to go outside. They don't need to listen to this." So we sat down. She sat down and told us that she was doing some checking on me and she had been up to the corporate office and she met with four or five people that told her that they would swear in a court of law... if I didn't drop the lawsuit against them, they were going to say I had used the airplane for smuggling drugs with....

So you get this call that comes in that says come in, visit the FBI in the federal building there in Fayetteville?

I didn't know whom to talk to at that point back in July so I talked to [my wife's] brother, and I talked to a minister in Fayetteville. I told him about it. I said, "I have to go on the record here with somebody." So I called the FBI in Little Rock and made a report to an agent there. That's why I thought they had called me.

So you went to the FBI with this story that your lawyer had heard that this thing was going to be used against you...

(Mary Ann Henrickson): We didn't know what to do. I was afraid that I would go to college one morning and have drugs in my car. I didn't know what could happen to us. We were afraid.

You had a lawsuit with Tyson. You have this, what you perceive to be a threat hanging over your heads. The FBI calls you out on a Sunday night in November. You go in and instead it being about [your report] it was what?

Basically we sat down, and they started asking questions about some fella named Mike Espy and had I ever seen him. I said, "I have never even heard of him, let alone seeing him. I have no idea who he is...." I mean I heard of him after the fact. But while I was [there] I never heard of him. Any flights he used on the airplanes, it happened after I was gone already....

[So what happens when] you arrive [at the federal office building?] Whom are you told to go see?

I wasn't told to see anybody. I cooled my heels in this little office, and we can't get in to see anybody for about 30 minutes. Finally, someone comes out, and they take me in. I sit down. They introduce me to a couple of different agents, then Donald Smaltz. I had no idea who Donald Smaltz was. I had never heard of him at that point.... He is the Independent Counsel. That didn't mean much to me at that point either.

And they ask you what? How did they tell you what it was about.

It was about the Espy investigation. I had asked was this about the threat I perceived from the attorney? They didn't know anything about that. They said, "No, we located you through lawsuits that people had filed against Tyson over the last year or two. We contacted you through your attorney." I said OK. They proceeded to ask me questions about Mike Espy. I said I don't know anything about Mike Espy....

They want to know had you flown Espy? Had you--what? Flown people who knew Espy, members of his family...what?

Basically had I flown him or have I seen him. I said, "No, I had not." That was about it....

Was Mr. Smaltz asking you questions?

Yeah, Mr. Smaltz was there, and he was asking me questions. Like I said, it was a dry hole at that point, I didn't have anything to tell them.


What changed it?

Well they asked me if I ever seen anything else that was illegal or strange, And the only thing that I said was the times that I had taken envelopes of money to be delivered to the Governor. And I mean Smaltz - I remember because he was sitting across from me turned away - he turned around. It was like his jaw almost fell open....

Envelopes of money. Did you have a sense that as you told him that, that you were giving something explosive?

No, I really didn't because the time when this happened, I didn't think about it. Like I told you Don was like the commandant of the marines; I was one of his lieutenants. I was just doing my job.

You mean at the time it happened?

Yes.... Sure, I mean we thought it was funny. We would take them and hold them up into the direct light, and you could just see money through the paper.

We don't need to go way down that path, but I would like just to make sure that I have a clear understanding of what actually occurred. It was over a period of time. It wasn't just one incident.

It was several incidents over several years.

Do you remember the very first one?

Yes, I probably remember the first one the best, to tell you the truth.... As a matter of fact, I wasn't even flying the trip; two other pilots were. I don't know who actually delivered it, but I remember staying out by the airplane waiting for them to go, and they [were] all looking it. It was a big joke. It was obviously a lot of money in the envelope.

How did you all know that it was for Governor Clinton?

Well, someone had been told. I don't think I was told at that point, but the pilots who were taking it down had been told.

That this was a package for Governor Clinton.


And how did you all know it was cash and not...?

Like I said again we would hold it up under direct sunlight and you could see if you pressed against the paper, you could see the hundred dollar bills in there....

And after the first incident, you didn't feel compelled to make a stink. You just sort of saw it. But then there were others. Were you ever personally handed an envelope intended for the governor?

(Joe Henrickson): Yes...

By a Tyson Executive?


And what were you told?

I wasn't told anything. To be delivered to the Governor. To Little Rock to the Governor....

So you end this meeting with the FBI agents and with IC Donald Smaltz, none of whom you had ever met. The subject of this meeting being one that you never would have guessed at before you arrived. They are asking you about Mike Espy, you have very little to say and then you drop this bit of information about the envelopes of money that pilots used to ferry from Tyson to then Governor Bill Clinton. How interested did DS seem at that point?

His ears went up. Very interested. I spent the rest of the afternoon with them. As a matter of fact, my wife probably thought I had been kidnapped.

(Mary Ann Henrickson):I was very worried.... I was scared. I was scared that afternoon because here was this call, "come talk to the FBI." We had never done anything like that. And Joe didn't show up at home and I remember going to my neighbors down the street, it's like they have taken him.... was scared, I really was.

What did he tell you when he came home?

(Mary Ann Henrickson): Well, I said what did they want to know? And I thought it was about us still. And he says " They are real interested in the envelopes of money." And I said "Oh boy, Oh boy." Because that is not something you go around Fayetteville Arkansas talking about. Joe and I never did. I mean, we knew this and we never talked about this stuff.... And he said that they were supposed to give him a letter of immunity and you know, he was just very tired. You know, I don't think we ever really knew what a letter of immunity was or why or anything about that. And he was supposed to go back the next day....

Let me ask you something about what you just said, Mrs. H. You don't do that sort of thing in Fayetteville Arkansas. Meaning what?

In Arkansas, you have a few major corporate businesses there and so many people depend on [them for] their livelihoods. I mean a lot of people are employed by the poultry industry, the various industries in Arkansas. It's sort of a company town, a company state. It's a company state. And you don't make waves like that. And Joe and I are not the kind of people that run around town and into the restaurants and any little tidbit we know on somebody, we don't do that. We never did that....

(Joe Henrickson): With the job I was doing, you didn't run around town telling people what you were doing. You were expected to shut your mouth.... I mean a lot of people would like to know. Don used to say that that is why we had our planes in Fayetteville instead of Springdale. The snoops up in Springdale would watch him come and go from there.

So you tell the story to Donald Smaltz, Independent Counsel and his federal agents. As he had asked you do and as presumably, you felt you had no choice but to do.

Well, I didn't really feel that I had no choice, but they asked me a question. I gave them an honest answer.

Did you tell them the truth?


Anything else? Any embellishment?

No... You're sitting here thinking "Boy, I wish I could tell you more but nothing else happened." I couldn't make anything up and tell him. They asked me generally how many times it happened. I told them to the best of my knowledge....


So you tell them this story. You spoke the truth. What happened in your lives after that?

About that time an article came out in Time Magazine. I made the mistake of talking to them. I even initiated that contact with them, which was not a very smart move on my part.... I kind of felt, and Mary Ann even more so than I did, as far as my own personal protection and safety [I should] go public with it. I don't know if that was the right move or not now.

So... you really were worried?

Absolutely. When I would run around the hill up there, I got to the point - we live on top of a hill so the road goes completely around the hill - I would run on the outside. I figured if anybody was going to try to run me over, they are not going to try to risk going off the hill to get me.

You actually worried about your physical safety?


And your family?

Yes, very much so....

So you have an adversarial situation with Mr. Tyson in that you sued for what you thought was wrongful termination. Your lawyer called you, summons you to her office one day and says she has something she wants to discuss with you. Tell me about that meeting.

Well, once again we went in there and sat down.... The way she told it to us it was four or five people who said they would testify that I used the company airplane to traffic in drugs with....

Tyson employees?

Yes, these were supposedly people at the company office. There are a lot of people up there. I have no idea who it could have been.

And you took that as a warning from the company?

Absolutely. You get a reputation like that in the flying business, you are not going to be doing a lot of flying for anybody reputable.

(Mary Ann Henrickson): She said, "You will be homeless; you will be penniless; you will be broken. You won't have any money left trying to defend yourself. Joe could do jail time." We're sitting here in chairs looking at each other with our mouths open.

(Joe Henrickson): She also relayed that not only would I not fly in Arkansas, but I would not fly in the United States ever again either....

But after you spoke to the Independent Counsel, Mr. Smaltz, [and] made these allegations about these envelopes of cash from Tyson to Governor Clinton. After that it became known, surely these other pilots who were privy to that information validated your assertion?

No, not one.... The ones that I personally know were there denied it ever happened. They don't recall.

Even those who know that you know the truth?

Yeah, especially those.... I tried to talk to one of them, but he didn't recall anything....

Why would he lie?

He's not there anymore. I think he's worried about his career. I don't know. That was my biggest disappointment. I asked the question what did I ever get out of this but stomped on and ground into the dirt? I wasn't having a good time at that point. I was looking for a little back-up, a little help, and there was none coming.

So here you were called in by an Independent Counsel, by the FBI on Sunday night to show up the next morning and answer questions, which you dutifully complied with, answered questions, answered them truthfully as you are asserting here. For that it sounds like you've been given nothing. But did you have any choice but to go ahead and answer those questions the way you did?

I felt I could have walked out there any time I wanted to. Believe me I never felt obligated to stay, or I was never coerced into saying anything. I could have walked out of the room any minute. I felt like doing it....

Why did you do that? Do what you did? Why did you tell Don Smaltz and his FBI agent this story?

(Mary Ann Henrickson): Well, I will say it was not out of retaliation to Tyson Foods. The reason we brought a lawsuit to start with was that we wanted to change law in Arkansas. This right-to-work stuff. If you come to work, and I don't like your hairdo today, I can fire you. I don't really feel like that's fair to people. Or if a man has worked for a company for 15 years with an exemplary record, and he tries to go through every channel, and then is just fired cold turkey for that. I don't believe in that either.

But you know the same reason we are here right now. It is the right thing to do. I wanted to do this interview. I feel like it's the honest, right thing to do. I will not change the way I live. I will not. I just won't do it....

You could have just not told him these stories, couldn't you?

(Joe Henrickson): Oh, yes....

It might had been better off had you not.

Oh, I'm sure it would have. I would have been better off like the rest of them not knowing squat about anything.... The thing was he asked the right question, and I gave him an honest answer to the best of my memory. Like I say... I'm not out to get anybody. I've gotten nothing out of this....

You folks put yourselves at some risk, some level of risk, even if it was only in terms of your reputation, in telling the independent counsel this story. How did you feel then when you learned that he wasn't able to take it anywhere?

Well, that's the interesting question because I didn't learn that probably until a month and a half ago that it never went any farther than it did. Donald Smaltz made one thing very clear to me that anything that happened, I wasn't going to know about it. He wasn't going to tell me. I had no inside information. I wasn't privy to anything....

How did you find out?

Well, let's see I guess I saw it in an article somewhere. I couldn't believe this. I think I even actually called Donald Smaltz. I know I did. Last week I talked to him. I asked him, "I wasn't aware of that...."

But did he explain to you why he didn't pursue this?

No, he didn't because I asked him. I was just curious. I asked him, "have you lost your mind giving Don and Johnny letters of immunity?" He said, "Well, I got 6 million dollars out of these guys." I said, "that's nothing."

Six million dollars is something that they can probably afford.


What would you say if I were to tell you that the reason Don Smaltz didn't pursue those leads and others that he had down there in Fayetteville was because the Department of Justice told him that he couldn't.

Well, I wouldn't be surprised at all to tell you the truth....

So when you look back knowing that, knowing what you've been through, what lesson do you take from all of this?

Well, everyone asks me if I would do it again.... I don't know. Hopefully I'm smarter than I look, but I would do it again.

(Mary Ann Henrickson): We both would do it again.

(Joe Henrickson): It was the right thing to do.... Whether somebody sees you do the right thing or ever finds out you've done the right thing doesn't make it any less wrong or any less right. It was the right thing.

(Mary Ann Henrickson): We have a 9 and a 10-year old. How can you teach your kids if you're not honest. I'm serious. We live that. We really do live that. When this issue came up, we were battling this back and forth. I said, "Joe, I feel like it's the right thing to do...."

But when you present this to your children or to your friends or when you consider it yourselves, is there not a cautionary aspect to it?

Absolutely. Believe me there are days that I regret ever opening my mouth sometimes. But that's the advantage of looking back at it. We paid a heavy price for doing what we did, and I expect to pay it again. I expect the mean machine to get turned on me again, and it probably will be.


For speaking to you.

You really expect that to happen to you, Joe?



home&nbsp.  donald smaltz & the espy case&nbsp.  office of the independent counsel&nbsp.  readings&nbsp.  discussion
synopsis&nbsp.  tapes & transcripts&nbsp.  press reactions
frontline online&nbsp.  wgbh&nbsp.  pbs online

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation