Leave it to maverick Bennett LeBow to blow smoke in the faces of other tobacco execs. The chairman and CEO of Brooke Group, parent of Liggett Group, has pledged that the tiny cigarette maker will cooperate with the Justice Dept.'s criminal probe of the industry. The pact with Justice provides no immunity.
The Liggett pact guarantees access to company records and employees. In its probe, Justice is looking into whether tobacco companies broke the law--either by perjuring themselves before Congress regarding the health consequences of smoking cigarettes or by illegally manipulating the level of nicotine. Says a Justice official: "This sends a message to other tobacco companies that we are taking it seriously."
In March, 1996, LeBow broke ranks with the industry by agreeing to settle some civil suits and cooperate with state attorneys general pursuing damage claims. Liggett has since reached settlements with 41 states, and LeBow himself has testified about the addictiveness of nicotine.