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Friday Roundup

Docket exploration in this Friday roundup.

SEC v. Jackson & Ruehlen

My first post concerning the SEC’s enforcement action against Mark Jackson and James Ruehlen asked – will the SEC be put to its burden of proof?   I noted that the case would be most interesting to follow as the SEC is rarely put to its burden of proof in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions and I highlighted, at the time, how the last time that happened (in 2002) the SEC lost.

As time would demonstrate, Jackson and Ruehlen indeed did put the SEC to its burden of proof and in December 2012 Judge Keith Ellison (S.D. of Tex.) granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss the SEC’s claims that sought monetary damages while denying the motion to dismiss as to claims seeking injunctive relief.  (See here for the prior post).  Even though Judge Ellison granted the motion as to SEC monetary damage claims, the dismissal was without prejudice meaning that the SEC was allowed to file an amended complaint.  As noted in this prior post, that is indeed what happened next, and as noted here a second round of briefing began anew.

In the Defendant’s renewed motion to dismiss (filed Feb. 22nd) they argued that the SEC could not rely on the fraudulent concealment or continuing violations doctrine to extend the limitations period to cover certain claims that accrued before May 12, 2006.  A week later the Supreme Court issued its unanimous decision in SEC v. Gabelli (see here for the prior post) and soon thereafter on March 11th the Defendants filed a notice of supplemental authority with the court arguing that Gabelli “bolstered” their position.

On March 22nd, the same day the SEC’s opposition brief was due, the parties jointly notified the court “that in lieu of opposing the [motion to dismiss] the SEC intends to file a Second Amended Complaint.”  The filing noted that the then proposed Second Amended Complaint “moots the relief sought in the [the motion to dismiss] because it clarifies that, among the violations alleged, the SEC seeks civil penalties … only to the extent such violations accrued on or before May 12, 2006.

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Speaking of statute of limitations, a recent article highlights how the DOJ is “testing a novel argument” to extend statute of limitations in certain cases.  The theory.  We are at war … in Afghanistan … and regardless of whether the conduct at issue has anything to do with that war in Afghanistan, the 1948 Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act gives prosecutors unlimited time to go after alleged fraud during times of war.

No this article was not in the Onion, it was in the Wall Street Journal (see here).

Former Siemens Executive Sharef Settles 2011 SEC Enforcement Action

The SEC announced earlier this week (here) that Uriel Sharef, “a former officer and board member of Siemens” agreed to settle – as had long been expected – the SEC’s action against him.  As noted in this previous post, Sharef, along with others was charged (both by the DOJ and SEC) in December 2011 in connection with an Argentine bribery scheme that was also the focus, in part, of the 2008 Siemens corporate enforcement action.

As noted in the SEC’s release, without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Sharef consented to entry of a final judgment prohibiting future FCPA violations and he agreed to pay a $275,000 civil penalty – a penalty the SEC called “the second highest penalty assessed against an individual in an FCPA case.”

[In connection with the Innospec FCPA enforcement action, in August 2010, Ousama Naaman resolved an SEC enforcement action by agreeing to disgorge $810,076, pay prejudgment interest of $67,020 and pay a civil penalty of $438,038.  See here for the prior post].

The burning question of course is whether the SEC would have prevailed against Sharef if he put the SEC to its burden of proof.  As highlighted in this previous post, Sharef’s co-defendant, Herbert Steffen, did just that and in February Judge Shira Scheindlin dismissed the SEC’s complaint against Steffen finding that personal jurisdiction over Steffen exceeded the limits of due process.

The SEC’s allegations against Sharef mention the phone call Sharef placed in the U.S. to Steffen.  As to this call, Judge Scheindlin stated as follows in the Steffen decision.

“Neither Sharef’s call to Steffen from the United States nor the fact that a portion of the bribery payments were deposited in a New York bank provide sufficient evidence of conduct directed towards the United States to establish minimum contacts.  First, Steffen did not place the calls to Sharef.  Further, Steffen did not direct that the funds be routed through a New York bank.  […]  His conduct was focused solely on ensuring the continuation of the Siemens contract in Argentina.”

The SEC complaint did however state the following additional as to Sharef.

“Sharef met in New York, NY [in January 2003] with payment intermediaries and agreed to pay $27 million in bribes to Argentine officials in connection with the [contract at issue].

Obstruction Charges Filed Against French Citizen in Connection With FCPA Investigation

The DOJ announced (here) earlier this week that “Frederic Cilins a French citizen, has been arrested and accused of attempting to obstruct an ongoing investigation into whether a mining company paid bribes to win lucrative mining rights in the Republic of Guinea.”

The Criminal Complaint charges Cilins with one count of tampering with a witness, victim, or informant; one count of obstruction of a criminal investigation; and one count of destruction, alteration, and falsification of records in a federal investigation.

Under the heading “Overview of the Defendant’s Crimes” the complaint states, in pertinent part, as follows.

“Cilins … has made repeated efforts to obstruct an ongoing federal grand jury investigation … concerning potential money laundering violations and potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, including such violations by a domestic concern as defined by the FCPA, relating to bribes to officials of a former government of the country of Guinea for the purpose of obtaining valuable mining concessions in Guinea.  During monitored and recorded phone calls and face-to-face meetings with a cooperating witness “CW” [identified as the former wife of a now deceased high-ranking official in the Government of Guinea who is cooperating with the government “in the hopes of obtaining immunity for her own potential criminal conduct”] assisting in this investigation, Cilins, among other things, agreed to pay large sums of money to the cooperating witness to induce the cooperating witness to: (1) provide to Cilins, for destruction, documents Cilins knew had been requested from the cooperating witness by special agents of the FBI and which were to be produced before a federal grand jury; and (2) sign an affidavit containing numerous false statements regarding matters within the scope of the grand jury investigation.  Cilins repeatedly told the cooperating witness that the documents needed to be destroyed ‘urgently’ and that Cilins needed to be present to personally witness the documents being burned.”

Various reports (see here for instance) have linked Cilins to Guernsey-based BSG Resources Ltd and the Criminal Complaint would seem to reference this company as a “particular business entity not based in the United States engaged in the mining industry” (the “Entity”).  The Criminal Complaint sketches a bribery scheme and states, in pertinent part, as follows.

“CW was visited by several individuals including Cilins who identified themselves as representatives of the Entity.  According to the CW, these individuals told the CW, on behalf of the Entity, that they wished to invest in mines in Guinea and asked the CW for help with the Guinean Official, who was then CW’s spouse.  Cilins offered the CW $12 million, to be distributed to the CW and ministers or officials within the Government of Guinea who might be needed to secure the mining rights if all went well after their introduction to the Guinean Official.”

The Criminal Complaint further states that “some of the money paid to the CW by the Entity and its affiliates or agents was wired to a bank account in Florida controlled by the CW.”

It would appear from the Criminal Complaint that BSG Resources is not the sole focus of the U.S. investigation.   Indeed, BSG Resources does not fit the description of a “domestic concern” as referenced in the Criminal Complaint which further states that “subjects of the grand jury investigation include one or more “domestic concerns” within the meaning of the FCPA …”.

Contrary to this assertion, obstruction charges were not first used in the FCPA enforcement against Hong Carson.  Prior to Carson (in which the charge was ultimately dropped) obstruction charges have been used in several FCPA enforcement actions since the FCPA’s first-mega case in 1982 (see here for the prior post).  Although not always successful prosecuted, the following FCPA defendants were nevertheless also charged with various obstruction charges:  Gerald Green, David Kay and Douglas Murphy, Leo Winston Smith and John O’Shea

TJGEM, LLC Complaint

In another example of the noticeable trend of increasing “offensive” use of the FCPA, in late March, Missouri-based TJGEM, LLC filed this civil complaint in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleging a variety of claims, including RICO, against various Ghana officials and New Jersey-based Conti Construction Co. Inc. in connection with a sewer project.  AllAfrica reports here as follows.

 “TJGEM is claiming that [a Ghanian official] inflated the contract sum for the construction of the sewer system, which has now been awarded to Conti Construction, also an American company, by $10 million …  According to [the complaint] because TJGEM’s representatives, who were negotiating with [the official] for the contract, were totally non-receptive and unresponsive to the [official’s] corrupt practices and solicitations, and refused to neither entertain  nor accede to same, but instead, rejected said corrupt practices, the contract  was taken away from them. [TJGEM] argues that the selection of a company whose price for the reconstruction of the sewer  project was some $10,000,000 in excess of the price fixed by TJGEM, leads to a reasonable inference that the [official] inflated the price of the sewer project, in order to receive said $10,000,000 as a bribe and kickback in the award of the  sewer project contract to his own use and benefit, and to the use and benefit of other Ghanaian public officials with whom he is acting in concert in the said criminal enterprise.”

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A good weekend to all.

Unsealed Documents In Enforcement Acton Against Former BizJet Executives Reveal A Trove Of Information

Yesterday’s post (here) summarized the criminal indictments against former BizJet executives Bernd Kowalewski and Jald Jensen.  Today’s post discusses the related criminal informations, based on the same core set of conduct, against former BizJet executives Peter DuBois (former Vice President of Sales & Marketing) and Neal Uhl (former Controller, Vice President of Finance).  As noted in the prior post, DuBois and Uhl agreed to plead guilty and were sentenced last week.

Today’s post also highlights documents recently unsealed in the DuBois and Uhl action which reveal a trove of information of interest to anyone curious about the inner workings of an FCPA enforcement action and connecting the dots to other FCPA enforcement actions.

DuBois was charged via a criminal information (here) with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and one substantive FCPA anti-bribery violation.  The conduct at issue is the same core set of conduct at issue in 2012 BizJet corporation action, as well as the criminal indictments against Kowalewski and Jensen.  That is a scheme to “obtain aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (“MRO”) service contracts and other business [for BizJet] from foreign government customers, including the Mexican Federal Police, the Mexican President’s Fleet, Sinaloa and the Panama Aviation Authority, by paying bribes to government officials employed by the foreign government customers.”

The DuBois information was filed on December 27, 2011 and the related motion by the DOJ to seal the docket (since unsealed) reveals the following.

As part of his plea agreement, DuBois worked in an undercover capacity for the government.  The motion specifically states as follows.  “As part of his work in an undercover capacity, Mr. DuBois has recorded conversations with former BizJet executives and other subjects of the government’s ongoing investigation.”  Later, the motion to seal states that “public identification of Mr. DuBois as a defendant who likely is cooperating with the government may jeopardize the undercover aspect of the government’s investigation.”

In the plea agreement, DuBois agreed to pay a forfeiture amount of $98,950 “representing proceeds derived by defendant in connection with the conspiracy” and to pay an additional $61,000 as the amount DuBois “received … as a result of his participation in the conspiracy.”

The DOJ’s memo in support of a downward departure for sentencing states as follows.

DuBois “assisted in the investigation from the outset and cooperated fully with the government throughout its investigation.  DuBois submitted to multiple interviews by the government and has assisted in every way that the government has asked.  DuBois told the truth to the government from the outset and continued to do so up until this very day.  DuBois’ cooperation not only assisted the government in connection with its investigation into BizJet, but also led to the investigation of another maintenance, repair, and overhaul company engaged in a similar scheme to pay bribes to government officials overseas.”

This last portion of the DOJ’s memo makes clear that the 2012 FCPA enforcement action against NORDAM Group (see here for the prior post) had its origins in the BizJet enforcement action.  Both BizJet and NORDAM Group are Tulsa, OK based aircraft maintenance companies.  The link and information about DuBois’ undercover role also raises the issue of whether individual prosecutions related to the NORDAM Group corporate enforcement action are also forthcoming.

As noted in the DOJ release, DuBois was sentenced to 60 months probation and eight months home detention.

Uhl was charged via a criminal information (here – filed on December 28, 2011) with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.  The conduct at issue is the same core set of conduct as indicated above, that is a scheme to “obtain aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (“MRO”) service contracts and other business [for BizJet] from foreign government customers, including the Mexican Federal Police, the Mexican President’s Fleet, Sinaloa and the Panama Aviation Authority, by paying bribes to government officials employed by the foreign government customers.”  See here for the Uhl plea agreement.

In the Uhl matter, the DOJ’s motion for a downward departure states as follows.

 Uhl “agreed to a voluntary proffer session and, when confronted by the government, admitted to the illegal conduct.  Throughout the course of the investigation, Uhl was cooperative and provided truthful information that substantially assisted the government in confronting other co-conspirators and witnesses.  Uhl offered to assist in any way that he could.”

As noted in the DOJ release, Uhl was sentenced to 60 months probation, eight months home detention, and was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.

The motions to seal in both the DuBois and Uhl actions further state as follows. “BizJet’s corrupt payments were not limited to Mexico.  BizJet employees bribed key decision makers in a number of countries, including Panama, Brazil, and Chile.”  This is notable in that the 2012 BizJet corporate enforcement action made no mention of conduct in Brazil or Chile.  This demonstrates that resolution documents in a corporate FCPA enforcement action are the result of negotiations and that final documents rarely offer the complete picture of the conduct that allegedly occurred.

Both the DuBois and Uhl plea agreements further indicate that BizJet’s bribery scheme was not just in foreign countries.  Both plea agreements state that the customers or potential customers BizJet bribed “included customers both in the United States and abroad.

Friday Roundup

Other items of note, add another to the list, a 6 day sentence, a notable name from the past and spot-on.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Other Items of Note

Yesterday’s post highlighted comments made by former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez at the Dow Jones / Wall Street Journal Global Compliance Symposium.  Other items of note from the event concern the Africa Sting case and the SEC’s neither admit nor deny settlement policy.

Africa Sting

The jury foreman in the second Africa Sting trial (see here for the prior post) stated that there were “enough small comments through the course of [jury] deliberations [that lead the person] to believe that [the jury’s] underlying view was that the defendants had acted in good faith and the FBI/DOJ in bad faith.”

The Africa Sting cases ended (see here for the prior post) by Judge Richard Leon stating, in pertinent part, as follows.

“This appears to be the end of a long and sad chapter in the annals of white collar criminal enforcement.”

“I expressed on a number of occasions my concerns regarding the way this case had been investigated and was conducted especially vis-a-vis the handling of Mr. Bistrong.”

“I for one hope this very long, and I’m sure very expensive, ordeal will be a true learning experience for both the Department and the FBI as they regroup to investigate and prosecute FCPA cases against individuals in the future.”

Yet listening to the interview of Ronald Hosko (assistant director of the criminal investigative division of the FBI) at the Dow Jones event, one was left with the conclusion that nothing appeared to be learned.  Indeed, Hosko seemed to blame the government’s loss on Judge Leon’s evidentiary rulings and the defendants’ good lawyers.  Hosko was interviewed by Dow Jones reporter Christopher Matthews (who closely followed the Africa Sting cases) and Matthews specifically asked Hosko whether anything will change as a result of the case.  Hosko said “we will do it again – see you out there.”

Neither Admit Nor Deny

Former SEC Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami had the opportunity at the Dow Jones event to articulate a sound rationale and purpose for the SEC’s long-standing neither admit nor deny settlement policy.  (See numerous prior posts here, here, here, and here – focusing mostly on Judge Jed Rakoff’s (S.D.N.Y.) disdain of the policy. ).

Instead, Khuzami’s remarks were unconvincing.

Khuzami acknowledged that direct accountability occurs when someone is forced to admit something “on the record,” but he stated that this incremental benefit (compared to a defendant in an SEC enforcement action resolving the case by way of penalties and other relief via a neither admit nor deny settlement) presents challenges that are not worth the additional costs that come from a system that demanded such accountability.

Khuzami noted that without the settlement policy, the “SEC would get few settlements, [settlements] would happen much later in the process, [and that enforcement actions] would tie up a great deal of resources, resources that could be used for the next fraud or victim.”  Against “all those benefits,” and the defendant writing a check and reforming itself, Khuzami did not believe that “it is worth the marginal increase in accountability” to require an explicit admission.

The problem with Khuzami’s defense is the failure to recognize that such a policy insulates SEC enforcement positions from judicial scrutiny.  Indeed, the SEC explicitly acknowledged in the Bank of America enforcement action (where Judge Rakoff first expressed concerns regarding the settlement policy) that SEC settlements “do not necessarily reflect the triumph of one party’s position over the other.”

The SEC is a law enforcement agency and enforcing a law and accusing people (legal or natural) of wrongdoing should not be easy and efficiency should not be the goal.  Justice, transparency, and accountability ought to be the goals and the SEC’s neither admit nor deny settlement policy frustrates these goals.

Add Another

Add another to the list of companies subject to FCPA scrutiny.  SBM Offshore (a Netherlands-based company with ADRs traded in the U.S. and a company that provides floating production solutions to the offshore energy industry) recently issued this press release titled “Update on Internal Investigation.”  It stated, in pertinent part, as follows.

“This investigation commenced in 2012 at the request of SBM Offshore into alleged payments involving sales intermediaries in certain African countries in the period 2007 through 2011, in order to determine whether these alleged payments violated anti-corruption laws. These alleged payments came to the attention of the management board after a review of SBM Offshore’s compliance procedures in late 2011. In the course of the investigation allegations were made of improper payments in countries outside Africa but to date no conclusive proof of such allegations has been established. The investigation is being carried out by outside legal counsel and forensic accountants, with the support of the chief Governance and Compliance officer and under the oversight of the audit committee. The investigation is expected to be completed in 2013.

As the investigation is not yet concluded, SBM Offshore cannot make any definitive statements regarding the findings of the investigation. The initial feedback received to date is that there are indications that substantial payments were made, mostly through intermediaries, which appear to have been intended for government officials. Also, SBM Offshore’s new Management Board, which was appointed in the course of 2012, has found it necessary and appropriate to increase awareness of proper compliance throughout the Group up to the highest management levels.

The Company voluntarily disclosed the investigation to the Dutch Public Prosecution Service (Openbaar Ministerie) and the United States Department of Justice in 2012. The Company will update the authorities on this initial feedback from the investigation shortly. At this stage it is not possible to state anything on the outcome of the investigations, including financial or otherwise.

6-Day Sentence

Bloomberg’s David Glovin has extensively followed the Kozeny, Bourke, etc. enforcement actions.

He reports here that Clayton Lewis (a former executive at hedge fund Omega Advisors, Inc.) was sentenced to time served by U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Buchwald.  As noted in Glovin’s article, Lewis pleaded guilty in 2004 to charges that he conspired with Viktor Kozeny to pay bribes as part of a 1998 scheme to buy the state oil company in Azerbaijan. Soon after his 2003 arrest, Lewis agreed to cooperate with the DOJ and he previously served six days in jail.

A Notable Name From The Past

Roderick Hills (Chairman of the SEC in the mid-1970’s) was a notable voice in the story of the FCPA.  (See here for my article of the same name).  It is ironic (given the SEC’s current FCPA unit) that the Commission never wanted any role whatsoever in enforcing the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.  Indeed, Chairman Hill stated as follows during various Congressional hearings.

“The Commission does not oppose direct prohibitions against these payments, but we have previously stated that, as a matter of principle, we would prefer not to be involved even in the civil enforcement of such prohibitions. As a matter of long experience, it is our collective judgment that disclosure is a sufficient deterrent to the improper activities with which we are concerned.”

“[A]s a matter of longstanding tradition and practice, the [SEC] has been a disclosure agency. Causing questionable conduct to be revealed to the public has a deterrent effect. Consistent with our past tradition, we would rather not get into the business, however, we think get involved in prohibiting particular payments. It is a different thing entirely to try to prohibit something, to try to make a decision as to whether it is legal or illegal, or proper or improper. Under present law, if it is material, we cause its disclosure, and we need not get into the finer points of whether it is or is not legal.”

“[The SEC] would prefer not to be involved in civil enforcement of such prohibitions since they embody separate and distinct policies from those underlying the federal securities laws. The securities laws are designed primarily to insure disclosure to investors of all of the relevant facts concerning corporations which seek to raise their capital from the public at large. The [criminal payment provisions of proposed legislation], on the other hand, would impose substantive regulation on a particular aspect of corporate behavior.The Commission recognizes the congressional interest in enacting these prohibitions, but the enforcement of such provisions does not easily fit within the Commission’s mandate.”

Against this backdrop, I enjoyed reading recent comments by Hills on the FCPAmericas Blog (see here).  Hills recently stated as follows.

“My view at the time was that the problem of bribery that we had uncovered had been dealt with and I did not support the passage of the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act. I was concerned then that broad criminalization of “questionable payments” to foreign officials would adversely affect the incentives for transparency that we had created. Nonetheless, the FCPA was passed and it has been properly amended to reduce the possibility that undue criminal actions will be brought.  It is important to remember that it was the ability of the SEC to cause disclosure that brought the scope of worldwide corporate bribery to light. What began in the 1970’s with the SEC enforcement efforts is now a worldwide crusade against the use of bribes to secure business. Today I accept that the FCPA has had, on balance, a positive effect on the reduction of bribery and that similar laws in other countries can have a similar effect. However, criminalization alone is not a useful policy. By itself it is an incentive to conceal. Without effective independent auditing, fair enforcement of FCPA type legislation is unlikely. Also, I believe that in the United States and elsewhere, prosecutorial discretion is essential if we are serious about reducing the corruption. Payments that are made in response to extortion demands or payments that are made by lower level corporate officials contrary to the policies of their employer should surely be treated differently than money crassly offered to buy corrupt official action. In short, as other countries are following the United States’ lead they need to understand that the criminalization of corporate bribery is not enough. If a country does not have effective means of causing broad transparency with effective auditing and independent oversight, FCPA type laws make it too easy to use improper payments as a political weapon.”

Spot-On

In a recent Q&A on Law360, Haywood Gilliam Jr. (Covington & Burling), stated as follows.

“Q: What aspects of your practice area are in need of reform and why?

A: Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement stands out as an area in need of further reform. Over the past several years, FCPA enforcement has been characterized by the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission advancing aggressive enforcement theories, but there have been limited opportunities for courts to scrutinize those theories. Most FCPA enforcement cases end in negotiated resolutions such as deferred prosecution or nonprosecution agreements. In that context, regulators often insist that the settling company or individual accept the government’s expansive theories as a condition of resolving the case.  For example, the DOJ has extracted penalties from non-U.S. based, non-U.S. traded companies not covered under the four corners of the statute by asserting broad theories such as aiding and abetting or conspiracy — even when the foreign entity has not taken any action in the U.S. As a practical matter, that could be a hard case to prove at trial — but the government almost never has to.  The result of this trend has been to enshrine the government’s aggressive enforcement positions as quasi-precedent: The law means what the DOJ and SEC say it means, and defendants (especially publicly traded companies) seldom have a realistic opportunity to push back in court, given the financial and practical costs of fighting a contested enforcement action. Relatively recently, district courts have begun to weigh in on these theories, which is a positive development, but there still is a dearth of FCPA case law as compared to other areas of criminal law.  This absence of settled law makes it challenging for companies to decide how to handle thorny FCPA compliance issues. For example, companies routinely face a difficult choice in deciding whether to self-report potential violations to the government, as opposed to thoroughly investigating and remediating the issues internally. While regulators insist that they will give “meaningful credit” to companies that self-report, the tangible benefits of doing so are far from clear. The recent FCPA resource guide issued by the DOJ and SEC says that the agencies place a “high premium” on self-reporting, but does not give concrete guidance as to how the government weighs self-reporting in deciding whether to charge a case, as opposed to offering a deferred prosecution or nonprosecution agreement, or declining the case outright. While the resource guide is a start, companies and their counsel would benefit from more specific guidance when they are weighing the potential, but uncertain, benefits of disclosure against the cost and distraction that can result from voluntarily handing the government a case that otherwise might not have come to its attention.”

Gilliam’s spot-on comments would make for good conversation with his firm’s new Vice-Chair, former Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.

In a recent Q&A on Law360, Mary Spearing (Baker Botts) stated as follows.

“Q: What aspects of your practice area are in need of reform and why?

A: It would be good for the practice if there was more litigation surrounding the scope and breadth of the statutes as applied and the government were put to the test. Currently, so much is being defined in settlements reached with the government. More frequent trials would render more judicial oversight of the government’s readings of the scope of the statutes’ reach.”

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A good weekend to all.

The Stings Before The Sting

A post that will increase your chance of capturing the office FCPA Jeopardy title.

As frequently reported, the Africa Sting case was the first time in the FCPA’s history that undercover investigative techniques were used.   As detailed in this prior post, not true, undercover investigative techniques have been used in several other FCPA enforcement actions.

As frequently reported, the Africa Sting case was the first time in the FCPA’s history that a full-blown sting operation was used in connection with an enforcement action.  This too is not true as detailed in this post which provides an overview of prior DOJ FCPA sting operations.

Hebert Tannenbaum

In 1996 an FBI spent agent received information from a confidential informant that Tannenbaum (the principal of Long Island based Tanner Management Corporation – a garbage incinerator manufacturer) “had previously made payments to foreign government officials to induce them to purchase garbage incinerators from the defendant.” (See here for the complaint). The informant further advised the FBI that Tannenbaum “had offered to make payments to government officials of various foreign countries in order to sell garbage incinerators in those countries” and during a recorded meeting with the informant Tannenbaum confirmed that he “had previously made a $75,000 cash payment to an official of the Government of Barbados, as an inducement for the purchase by his government of a garbage incinerator.” Thereafter, the informant, acting at the FBI’s direction, recorded a call with Tannenbaum during which Tannenbaum “admitted that he was willing to make payments to sell his garbage incinerators” and the complaint references specific payments in Taiwan and Argentina. During a meeting at the Park Lane Hotel in New York, the informant introduced Tannenbaum to the FBI special agent who was posing “as an Argentine government procurement official who wanted to purchase a garbage incinerator.” During the meeting, Tannenbaum offered to sell the Argentine “procurement official” an incinerator and stated “that he was willing to make a payment to facilitate the deal.” According to the complaint, Tannenbaum, on the way to a bank to open an account to faciliate the deal, told the undercover FBI agent posing as the “procurement official” that “for all he knew [“procurement official”] could have been an FBI agent” and that Tannenbaum was “in his seventies, and did not want to get in trouble.”

Well, Tannebaum did get in trouble.

Based on the above information, Tannenbaum was charged in 1998 via a one count criminal information (here) with conspiracy to violate the FCPA. The information is signed by then U.S. Attorney for the S.D. of New York Mary Jo White currently a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton (here).

Tannenbaum pleaded guilty (see here and here for the DOJ release) and was sentenced to 366 days plus three years of supervised release.

Richard Novak

In 2006, Richard Novak was charged (here) with, among other counts, violating the FCPA. It remains one of the more unusual FCPA enforcement actions ever. Novak and others owned and operated several internet businesses using the names “Saint Regis University,” “Robertstown University” and “James Monroe University.” According to the superseding information “they were diploma mills in that these ‘universities’ had no legitimate faculty members; offered no legitimate academic curriculum or services; required no course work or class work; and were not recognized by the United States Department of Education.” According to the superseding information, Novak made a bribe payment to the “Consult and First Secretary at the Liberian Embassy in Washington D.C. in order to assist Saint Regis University and its owners in fraudulently selling diplomas through their internet businesses.” Elsewhere, the superseding information states that “various foreign government officials who received the bribes held various positions at the Liberian Embassy in Washington, D.C., the Liberian Embassy in Accra, Ghana, and at the Ministry of Education for the Republic of Liberia in Monrovia, Liberia” and that these individuals, among other things, “were in a position to: issue certificates of accreditation and recognition; issue notarial certificates; issue letters claiming that Saint Regis University was fully accredited and recognized by the Ministry of Education in the Republic of Liberia; and cause staff at the Liberian Embassy in Washington D.C. to answer the telephone calls in a positive way when inquiries regarding the legitimacy [of the Universities] were made.”

Although not specifically mentioned in the superseding information, a component of the original indictment (here) against Novak and several others was U.S. Secret Service agents posing as high school dropouts seeking degrees.

Novak pleaded guilty (see here) and was sentenced to three years probation.

First Africa Sting Trial Results In Mistrial

On January 19, 2010, the DOJ announced (here) a new type of FCPA enforcement action.

While not the first use of undercover techniques in an FCPA enforcement action (see here), the new type of case was certainly the largest and most dramatic use of pro-active, undercover investigative techniques in the FCPA’s history.

Twenty-two executives and employees of companies in the military and law enforcement products industry were criminally indicted “for engaging in schemes to bribe foreign government officials to obtain and retain business.” However, there was no real foreign official – just FBI agents posing as representatives of a Gabon foreign official – and the case was manufactured by the government with the assistance of Richard Bistrong (an individual who previously pleaded guilty to separate FCPA violations – see here).

In announcing the indictments, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer called the action a “turning point.”

The cases were assigned to Judge Richard Leon (U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia). Given the number of defendants indicted, the cases were segregated into smaller units for trial.

The first trial, which started in mid-May, involved Andrew Bigelow, Pankesh Patel, John Benson Weir, and Lee Allen Tolleson. As highlighted in this prior post, at the close of the DOJ’s case, Judge Leon dismissed a substantive FCPA count as to Patel, a substantive FCPA count as to Tolleson, and dismissed a money laundering count as to all defendants.

Yesterday, Judge Leon declared a mistrial as to all remaining counts of the DOJ’s “turning point” prosecution. For additional coverage see here from the FCPA Blog, here from Main Justice, here from Reuters, here from Law360, and here from the Wall Street Journal Corruption Currents.

Scott Fredericksen, a former DOJ prosecutor and current FCPA practitioner at Foley & Lardner (see here) offered the following analysis.

“A mistrial in the Africa Sting FCPA case represents a major disappointment for the DOJ. But for those who have followed the trial, it is no surprise. Many thought outright acquittal was a real possibility. A mistrial of course is most often declared by the court where the jury has steadfastly indicated that it is unable to reach a unanimous verdict, even after the court usually gives very strong instructions urging the jury to work harder to reach a verdict. There are other situations in which a mistrial may be declared, most often involving error in the way the case is tried or the improper admission of evidence or prejudicial information. In this case, it appears there was a failure to reach unanimity by the jury on a verdict. Often times in such situations the court may allow the counsel to interview jurors about the basis for being hung, including what the final vote was. Obviously, if the vote was heavily in favor of one side, or if, as often happens, there was a lone holdout, then counsel will be able to make informed decisions about a retrial and how the case should be tried in a retrial. It is in the discretion of the court whether to allow jurors to be interviewed. Jurors must also consent. Most judges will allow some limited amount of interviewing, including only allowing the interview to take place in court. Again, it is a discretionary decision. The mistrial puts the government between the proverbial rock and hard place. The DOJ has made this prosecution a marker in their ratcheting up of their enforcement of the FCPA. It is hard to imagine that they would not seek a retrial. Yet the case likely will only get more difficult for the prosecution. The trial exposed the weaknesses of the government’s case, including their critical witnesses, the most important of which did not testify. Will DOJ change their strategy? But now defense counsel know the evidence and testimony and can cross examine with a transcript of the DOJ witnesses in hand. Waiting in the wings are another group of experienced defense counsel whose clients’ trial has been severed but already scheduled. Finally, some observers of the trial think Judge Leon was surprised and disappointed by what he saw in the government’s prosecution sting and the evidence. This looks to be only one chapter in a now much longer story.”

Indeed, it would seem that yesterday’s mistrial is merely one chapter in a much longer story. The DOJ has indicated that it intends to refile its case against all four defendants, but will a different jury make a difference? What impact will this mistrial have on the other Africa Sting cases scheduled for trial?

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