HOUSTON – A former general manager and partial owner of a Florida-based energy company and an owner of multiple Texas-based energy companies each pleaded guilty today to foreign bribery charges for their role in a scheme to corruptly secure contracts from Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA). Juan Jose Hernandez Comerma
, 51, of Weston, Florida, pleaded guilty in federal court in Houston to one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and one count of violating the FCPA. Charles Quintard Beech III
, 46, of Katy, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA.
U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller of the Southern District of Texas accepted the guilty pleas.
Sentencing for both defendants is scheduled for July 14, 2017.
According to admissions made in connection with Hernandez’s plea, Hernandez conspired with U.S.-based businessmen Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas (Shiera) and Roberto Enrique Rincon Fernandez (Rincon) to pay bribes and other things of value to PDVSA purchasing analysts.
This ensured Shiera’s and Rincon’s companies were placed on PDVSA bidding panels, which enabled the companies to win lucrative energy contracts with PDVSA.
As part of their pleas, Shiera and Rincon admitted they worked together to submit bids to provide equipment and services to PDVSA through their various companies.
From 2008 until 2012, Hernandez admitted that while general manager and later partial owner of one of Shiera’s companies, he provided recreational travel and entertainment and offered bribes to PDVSA officials, including Alfonzo Eliezer Gravina Munoz (Gravina), on a percentage of contracts the officials helped to award to Shiera’s companies. Rincon, Shiera and Gravina have all also pleaded guilty in the case.
According to admissions made in connection with Beech’s plea, from 2011 to 2012, Beech paid bribes to multiple PDVSA officials, including Gravina, in exchange for their assistance in placing Beech’s companies on PDVSA bidding panels and assisting Beech’s company or companies in receiving payment for previously awarded PDVSA contracts.
Beech also admitted that he agreed with others, including PDVSA officials, to engage in financial transactions to conceal the nature, source and ownership of the bribe proceeds.
"On or about August 23, 2012, Defendant BEECH caused $132,240.32 to be wired from a U.S. bank account in the name of a company owned by Defendant BEECH to a Swiss bank account in the name of a company controlled by [Venezuela government PDVSA] Official G in exchange for Official G's assistant in giving priority to a company or companies owned by BEECH ahead of other PDVSA vendors with outstanding invoices," the Criminal Information charges.BIG PICTURE
Venezuelan businessmen Roberto Rincon and Abraham Jose Shiera were arrested in Houston and Miami, respectively, by the U.S. authorities on charges of fraud and money laundering involving Venezuela state-owned oil company PDVSA in December of 2015.
Shiera resided in Coral Gables, a rich suburb of Miami, Florida, and Rincon lived in a $5 million mansion in The Woodlands in the metropolitan area of Houston, Texas.
According to a court order in the case, from 2009 to 2014, more than $1 billion was traced to the conspiracy, with $750 million linked to Rincon.
Rincon’s arrest has a symbolic importance for the U.S. due to his alleged closeness to former director of the Venezuelan military intelligence, Gen. Hugo Carvajal, who is wanted in the U.S. for drug-trafficking offenses related to the FARC and who was arrested in July 2014 in the Dutch island of Aruba.
The Dutch authorities subsequently released Carvajal, owing to his diplomatic immunity as a consul of the island, and he returned to Venezuela where he received the backing of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who called the incident a “kidnapping.”
In October, the U.S. also arrested and charged former Venezuelan police officer Pedro Luis Martin Olivares, another alleged collaborator of Carvajal, according to the Attorney General’s Office of the Southern District of Florida.
Rincon and Shieras pled guilty to the indictment which said five PDVSA officials, whom it did not name, received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes made principally in the form of wire transfers but also through mortgage payments, airlines tickets and, in one case, whiskey.
Including Hernandez and Beech, eight individuals have pleaded guilty as part of a larger, ongoing investigation by the U.S. government into bribery at PDVSA.
Shiera and Rincon pleaded guilty before Judge Miller to multiple FCPA charges in March and June of 2016, respectively. Gravina pleaded guilty in December 2015 to conspiracy to commit money laundering and making false statements on his federal income tax return by failing to report the bribe payments he received. As part of their plea agreements, all defendants agreed to forfeit proceeds from their criminal activity.
PDVSA has filed for the return of the stolen funds as a victim of the scheme and is asking for the return of more than $600 million in restitution.
ICE-HSI is conducting the ongoing investigation with assistance from the FBI and IRS-CI. Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSA) John Pearson and Robert S. Johnson of the Southern District of Texas and Trial Attorneys Aisling O’Shea and Jeremy R. Sanders of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case. AUSAs Kristine Rollinson and Vincent Carroll of the Southern District of Texas are handling the forfeiture aspects of the case.
The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs and the Swiss Federal Office of Justice also provided assistance.
U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) in Houston and Special Agent in Charge Richard Goss of Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation’s (IRS-CI) Houston Field Office made the announcement.
US v Charles Quintard Beech III - Information Charges - 4 Jan 2017 by Latin American Herald Tribune on Scribd
US v Juan Jose Hernandez-Comerma - Information Charge - 4 January 2017 by Latin American Herald Tribune on Scribd