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Contending that a Cabinet officer is no different from a rank-and-file worker, prosecutors asked an appeals court Wednesday to reinstate charges against former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy under a law enacted to prevent meat inspectors from taking corporate gifts.

The 1907 law prohibits an inspector or "other official or employee" of the Agriculture Department from accepting a gratuity from a regulated company, an attorney for Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz argued.

Meat and poultry inspection, attorney Charles M. Kagay said, is among the "things the secretary will cause to be done" as an integral part of his duties as chief of the department.

"He is forbidden from taking gratuities," Kagay said.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Wednesday in the case, which has delayed Espy's trial on other charges. A ruling will come later.

In December, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina dismissed three counts that Espy violated the Meat Inspection Act by accepting gifts worth a total of $4,140.

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