FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

January 28, 2010

FCPA Sentencing Box Score

Tfoxlaw is an avid baseball fan. As a child, he was taught how to keep score at professional baseball games by his Grandfather. This had two effects. The first was immediate; it kept him quiet at ballgames. The second is more long term; he continues to keep score at baseball games up to the present. So he appreciates it when he reads (or hears) the words, “For those of you scoring at home” as was stated by the FCPA Professor in his December 31, 2009 posting on the UTStarcom matter. Judging from his posts, it appears the FCPA Professor is also a baseball fan.

In his post of January 18, entitled, “Four Awaiting Sentencing”; the FCPABlog discussed four persons, currently scheduled to be sentenced in January for pleas or convictions of FCPA violations. Two of the individuals are former Willbros employees who have pled guilty and are awaiting sentencing, Jim Bob Brown and Jason Edward Steph. The remaining two are the husband and wife team of Gerald and Patricia Green, who were convicted in a jury trial of FCPA violations related to their attempts to acquire lucrative film festival contracts in Thailand. The Greens were the third of three high profile FCPA trials which were concluded in 2009. See my prior post, “2009-Year of the Trial” at https://tfoxlaw.wordpress.com/2009/12/31/2009-the-year-of-the-trial/.

The convicted defendants from the first two trials, Frederick Bourke and William Jefferson have been sentenced and are out on bail during their respective appeals. As mentioned in its “Four Awaiting Sentencing”, the FCPA Blog stated that “Under the federal guidelines, Gerald Green, 77, is facing between 20 and 25 years in prison; the government wants him sentenced to life in prison.” While a 25 year sentence for a 77 year old man is tantamount to a life sentence, it is not clear how much weight the trial judge would give to the Prosecution’s proposed life sentence.

As pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Spring Training in only 30 days, the FCPABlog article and the FCPA Professor’s comment got Tfoxlaw’s baseball mind thinking about the FCPA sentencing boxscore for the two defendants in the other 2009 FCPA trials and how that might related to those upcoming in 2010.

FCPA SENTENCING BOXSCORE

Defendant Sentencing Guidelines Prosecution Recommended Sentence Defense Recommended Sentence Judge’s Sentence
William

Jefferson

324 to 405 mos.

=27 to 33 yrs.

27 to 33 years “less than 10 years” 13 years
Frederick Bourke 57 to 71 mos.

=4.75 to 6 yrs.

10 years Probation A year and a day
Gerald Green 235 to 293 mos.

=20 to 24.4 yrs.

Life in Prison Green does not pose risk to society Sentencing now set for March 11

 In both the Bourke and Jefferson cases, the trial judge gave jail time considerably less than that suggested by the Sentencing Guidelines and that sought by the Prosecutors; albeit with longer sentences than requested by the defendant’s attorneys. So what does all this mean? Tfoxlaw comes from a civil law background so has no experience as a prosecutors. Perhaps a blogger with the prosecutorial background can help to explain these (apparently) wide discrepancies and what that might mean for Gerald Green.

December 31, 2009

2009-The Year of the Trial

2009 FCPA-The Year of the Trial

At the end of this year, many commentators have weighed in on the changes in enforcement under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) over the past decade or the catastrophic increase in fines and disgorgement of profits over the past year. I believe that in the FCPA world 2009 will be remembered as the Year of the Trial. Here is a summary of the three FCPA enforcement actions which went to a full jury verdict this year and their outcomes.

A. Frederick Bourke

The first of the convictions was delivered on July 10, 2009, when Frederic Bourke was convicted of conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act; the Travel Act and lying to FBI agents. The jury found that he invested in Czech-born promoter Viktor Kozeny’s unsuccessful attempt in 1998 to gain control of Azerbaijan’s state oil company, State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR), despite knowing Kozeny planned to bribe Azeri leaders.

In its Press Release, the Department of Justice (DOJ) stated that evidence was presented at trial established that Bourke was a knowing participant in a scheme to bribe senior government officials in Azerbaijan with several hundred million dollars in shares of stock, cash, and other gifts. These bribes were meant to ensure that those officials would privatize SOCAR in a rigged auction that only Bourke, fugitive Czech investor Viktor Kozeny and members of their investment consortium could win, to their massive profit. [DOJ Press Release can be found at http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2009/July/09-crm-677.html%5D

On November 12, Bourke was sentenced by the trial judge, Shira Scheindin to a sentence of ‘a year and a day’, followed by three years of probation and a $1,000,000 fine. The government had sought a sentence of 10 years as” a deterrence to others”. At the Sentencing Hearing Judge Scheindin is reported to have said: “After years of supervising this case, it’s still not entirely clear to me whether Mr. Bourke is a victim or a crook or a little bit of both.”

B. William Jefferson

On August 5, former nine-term congressman William Jefferson was convicted on 11 of 16 corruption charges. As reported in the FCPABlog, Jefferson was acquitted on Count 11 of the indictment — the only substantive FCPA charge he faced. But the jury convicted him on Count 1; which alleged three separate illegal conspiracies — to solicit bribes, deprive citizens of honest services and violate the FCPA. The jury’s verdict form did not require it to specify which of the three illegal conspiracies the panel believed he engaged in so Jefferson’s conviction on Count 1 may or may not have included a finding that he conspired to violate the FCPA. [DOJ Press release can be found at http://washingtondc.fbi.gov/dojpressrel/pressrel09/wfo111309b.htm ]

Jefferson was sentenced on November 14 to 13 years in prison by Judge T.S. Ellis. It is not clear if Judge Ellis used the FCPA-related conspiracy element to calculate Jefferson’s sentence as the jury acquitted Jefferson on the substantive FCPA charge but was convicted then on conspiracy to violate the FCPA. It may never be known. Jefferson is currently on bail pending his appeal. The DOJ had asked the trial judge for a sentence ranging from 27 to 33 years in prison.

C. Gerald and Patricia Green

The third FCPA related verdict was handed down on September 14, when Gerald Green and his wife Patricia were convicted of FCPA violations. According to the DOJ Press Release, during the period from 2002 through 2007, the Greens conspired with others to bribe the former governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (to the tune of $1.8MM) in order to acquire lucrative film festival contracts as well as other deals for the development of a Thai Privilege Card, a website, book, video, calendars and public relations services.

As reported in the FCPABlog on December 18, 2009, the Greens used different business entities, some with dummy addresses and telephone numbers, to hide how much they were receiving under the contracts. The jury found that Greens disguised the bribes as “sales commissions” and made the payments through foreign bank accounts of intermediaries in Singapore, the United Kingdom and Jersey, some in the name of the former governor’s daughter and a friend. [DOJ Press Release can be found at http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2009/September/09-crm-952.html.%5D

Sentencing was originally scheduled for December 17; however it has been rescheduled to January 21, 2010. The Pre-Sentencing Report was filed on December 14, 2009 and now the Justice Department now wants Gerald Green, aged 76, sentenced to life in prison. In a December 14 court filing, prosecutors said although the Pre-Sentence Report recommended a downward departure under the federal sentencing guidelines and a sentence of about 20 to 25 years, Green’s sentence should instead be enhanced. The DOJ alleged that Green was “the ring leader of the bribery plot” and said he “repeatedly and blatantly perjured himself” at his trial.

FCPA cases rarely go to trial. And even when they do, such trials rarely result in acquittals. There has not been an outright acquittal in an FCPA case since 1991. After this year, it may be that no individuals are willing to take their chances by putting their fate in front of a judge or jury for an FCPA charge. Why is it so difficult to win an FCPA case for an individual? I believe it comes down to two reasons.

The first reason relates to judges and the law. Trial judges and Courts of Appeal have not been friendly to technical legal arguments over the language of the FCPA. “What is a business nexus”; “who is a foreign official”; “what is obtaining or retaining business”, or the invocation of a “local law defense” have not received favorable rulings from courts. The second reason relates to juries and the facts. Juries do not take well to the payment of bribes. No matter how these payments are described, such as payments of over $1 million to intermediaries by the Greens, $90,000 in cash stuffed in a freezer in the Jefferson case, or, as in the Bourke case as related by the Jury Foreman, “we thought he knew” that bribery and corruption were involved in the business deal in which he was a participant, to the tune of an $8 million investment, but equally importantly “he definitely should have known”.

One of the first things one learns in law school is that “if the facts are against you argue the law” and “if the law is against you argue the facts”. However, in FCPA cases, it appears that individual defendants cannot seem to argue either way as there has been no favorable law (legal) ruling which may form the basis of legal defenses AND all FCPA cases involve large amounts of cash or money, so that the facts always look bad. So the lesson from 2009 is that a defendant should be very careful in weighing the benefits vs. the risk of an FCPA criminal trial.

November 9, 2009

When You Do Know What You Don’t (Want to) Know-Frederick Bourke and Conscious Avoidance

Filed under: FCPA — tfoxlaw @ 9:23 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

The Legislative History of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) makes clear that Congress intended that the so-called “head-in-the-sand” defense – also described as “conscious disregard”, “willful blindness” or “deliberate ignorance” – should be covered so that company officials could not take refuge from the Act’s prohibitions by their unwarranted obliviousness to any action (or inaction), language or other “signaling device” that should reasonably alert them of the “high probability” of an FCPA violation.

In his recently denied Motion for New Trial, Frederick Bourke argued, among other things, that the jury instructions were wrong in a number of ways, including the mens rea element, the local law defense, a good-faith defense, and his possible conviction based on negligent acts.

As reported in the FCPA Blog, the prosecutors at trial contended that Bourke had “stuck his head in the sand”. Even if Bourke did not affirmatively know that bribes were being paid, he was aware of a high probability such action was occurring and he consciously and intentionally avoided confirming this fact. In the jury charge, the Court explained this “conscious avoidance” could be equated to actual knowledge under the FCPA.

In his post-trial motion, Bourke argued that the trial judge, US District Judge Shira Scheindlin, had erred simply because he had “not tried hard enough to learn the truth”. However, test was not Bourke’s actual knowledge of the payment of bribes, but Bourke’s efforts to avoid acquiring that actual knowledge. “The conscious avoidance doctrine provides that a defendant’s knowledge of a fact required to prove the defendant’s guilt may be found when the jury is persuaded that the defendant consciously avoided learning that fact while aware of high probability of its existence”, she said, quoting United States v. Svoboda, 347 F.3d 471, 477 (2d Cir. 2003).

The trial judge went on to state “In addition, the FCPA explicitly permits a finding of knowledge on a conscious avoidance theory. It provides that ‘[w]hen knowledge of the existence of a particular circumstance is required for an offense, such knowledge is established if a person is aware of a high probability of the existence of such circumstance, unless the person actually believes that such circumstance does not exist.’ 15 U.S.C. § 78dd-2(h)(3)(B). Because the defendant must be found to possess the same intent as that required for the substantive offense, the conscious avoidance instruction was particularly appropriate in this case”.

The successful prosecution of Frederick Bourke is a significant expansion of theories of prosecution under the FCPA. While the Bourke case involved an individual and his investment in one transaction, the red-flags that were (or should have been) raised are similar to those which a US company doing business overseas must investigate and evaluate in any transaction. All transactions must be thoroughly investigated, evaluated and reviewed on an ongoing basis to try and ensure full FCPA compliance.

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