[This post is part of a periodic series regarding “old” FCPA enforcement actions]
If one were to compile a list of the most dubious Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions of all-time, near the top of the list would be the DOJ’s 1994 enforcement action against Vitusa Corporation and its President Denny Herzberg.
In this criminal information, the DOJ alleged that Vitusa (a New Jersey corporation engaged in the business of selling commodities and other goods) “entered into a lawful contract to sell milk powder to the Government of the Dominican Republic.”
The DOJ then alleged as follows.
“Although Vitusa delivered the milk powder to the Government of the Dominican Republic, the Dominican government did not pay Vitusa promptly for the milk powder received and, in fact, maintained an outstanding balance due for an extended period of time. Vitusa, therefore, made various efforts to collect the outstanding balance due, including contacting officials of the United States and Dominican Governments to obtain their assistance in securing payment in full.”
According to the DOJ, “during the pendency of the contract, Servio Tulio Mancebo (a citizen of the Dominican Republic) communicated to Herzberg a demand made by a foreign official [a senior official of the Government of the Dominican Republic] which called for the payment of a ‘service fee’ to that official in return for the official using that official’s influence to obtain the balance due to Vitusa for the milk powder contract from the Dominican Government.”
According to the DOJ, “Herzberg agreed to Mancebo’s proposal that Vitusa would pay a ‘service fee’ indirectly to the foreign official.” Thereafter, the DOJ alleged that the Government of the Dominican Republic made payment of $63,905.12 to Vitusa on the contract, but that following Herzberg’s instruction, “Mancebo retained $20,000 from that payment.”
According to the DOJ, Vitusa and Herberg knew “that all or a portion of the money would be given to the foreign official for the purpose of inducing the official to use that official’s position and influence with the Government of the Dominican Republic in order to obtain and retain business, that is, full payment of the balance due for Vitusa’s prior sale of milk powder to the Government of the Dominican Republic.”
Based on the above allegations, the DOJ charged Vitusa with violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.
Vitusa pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a $20,000 criminal fine (see here).
Herzberg also pleaded guilty and was placed on two years probation (see here). Herzberg was also ordered to pay a $5,000 criminal fine, but the judgment notes that “this fine shall be applied to the $20,000 fine to be paid by Vitusa Corp.”
“The unlawful payments to the foreign official were made in order to obtain payment of a legitimate and lawful obligation owed by the Government of the Dominican Republic to Vitusa. There was no loss to any party and no individual victim exists.”
See here Vitusa Corp.’s current website.
FCPA aficionados know that the Vitusa / Herzberg action is not the only FCPA enforcement action in which an enforcement agency alleged that payments in connection with securing a bona fide receivable violated the anti-bribery provisions. See here for the prior post on the SEC’s 2010 FCPA enforcement action against Joe Summers.