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Testing Innocence

By now you have probably heard that various Bonny Island bribery defendants were sentenced last week.  As noted in this DOJ release:

Albert Stanley (a former chairman and CEO of Kellogg, Brown & Root, Inc.) was sentenced to 30 months in prison, ordered to serve three years of supervised release and to pay $10.8 million in restitution to KBR, the victim of a separate kickback scheme Stanley engaged in;

Jeffrey Tesler (a U.K. citizen and agent of the TSKJ joint venture at the center of the bribery scheme) was sentenced to 21 months in prison, followed by two years of supervised release, and ordered to pay a $25,000 fine in addition to previously forfeiting approximately $149 million.

Wojciech Chodan (a U.K. citizen and former salesman at KBR’s U.K. subsidiary) was sentenced to 1 year of probation and ordered to pay a $20,000 fine in addition to previously forfeiting approximately $727,000.

The Bonny Island bribery conduct the defendants were charged in was massive in scope and involved a decade-long scheme to bribe Nigerian officials to obtain engineering, procurement and construction contracts at Bonny Island Nigeria valued at more than $6 billion.

As detailed in this previous post, the corporate Bonny Island bribery enforcement actions resulted in approximately $1.6 billion in DOJ/SEC fines and penalties.  The DOJ’s press release announcing the sentences states as follows.  “Today’s prison sentences for Mr. Stanley and Mr. Tesler mark another important step in our prosecution of those responsible for a massive bribery scheme involving engineering, procurement and construction contracts in Nigeria.  These sentences reflect not only the defendants’ illegal acts, but also their substantial cooperation with the government. As a result of this investigation, three individuals have been convicted of FCPA-related crimes, and five companies in four countries have paid substantial penalties and undertaken significant efforts to enhance their compliance programs.  This case shows the importance the department places on putting an end to foreign bribery.”

Two people that probably have not heard of last week’s Bonny Island bribery sentences are Joel Esquenazi and Carlos Rodriguez – two of the defendants in the Haiti Teleco enforcement action.  As noted in this prior post, in October 2011, Esquenazi was sentenced to 15 years in prison and Rodriguez was sentenced to 7 years in prison.

Was the conduct that Esquenazi and Rodriguez engaged in more egregious than the Bonny Island bribery conduct engaged in by Stanley, Tesler, and Chodan?

Not even close.  According to the DOJ, Esquenazi and Rodriguez participated in a scheme in which their employer, Terra Telecommunications Inc. paid $890,000 to shell companies to be used for bribes to Haiti Teleco officials to receive preferred telecommunications rates.

So what did Esquenazi and Rodriguez do to receive a significantly longer sentence than the defendants charged in connection with one of the largest bribery schemes ever under the FCPA?

Esquenazi and Rodriguez tested their innocence.  They exercised their constitutional right to a trial, put the DOJ to its burden of proof, and were convicted by a jury (their appeals are pending).

Professor Ellen Podgor notes in White Collar Innocence:  Irrelevant in the High Stakes Risk Game (here) as follows. “Our existing legal system places the risk of going to trial, and in some cases even being charged with a crime so high, that innocence and guilt no longer become the real considerations;” rather, “maneuvering the system to receive the least onerous consequences may ensure the best result for the accused party, regardless of innocence.”  In the article, Professor Podgor details several stories involving disparate criminal sanctions and states “the real moral of these stories is not whether the punishment was warranted, but rather the appropriateness of the level of risk that one has to take to proceed to trial, and the chilling effect of the high risk caused by the ―trial penalty.”  Podgor notes that “iinnocence becomes irrelevant as the real question becomes whether it is worth the risk of testing an innocence claim.”

Esquenazi and Rodriguez were found guilty by a jury.  However, the greatest factor in their sentences is likely that they tested their innocence.  In contrast, Stanley, Tesler, Chodan pleaded guilty and cooperated (although Tesler and Chodan did fight extradition for several years) and received substantially shorter sentences for engaging in much more egregious conduct.

Is this justice or is this merely knowing how to play a game?  Were Stanley, Tesler, and Chodan sentenced too lightly or were Esquenazi and Rodriguez sentenced too harshly?  What is the message sent to future FCPA individual defendants who might want to test their innocence?

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