Dec. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Conspiracy charges were dismissed against a former Secret Service official and five other security-company executives in the first prosecution of alleged foreign bribery based on a government sting operation run inside the U.S.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon today threw out the conspiracy charge at the defendants’ request after the government finished presenting its case to a federal jury in Washington. Five of the executives still face additional foreign bribery charges.
Prosecutors allege that R. Patrick Caldwell, former chief executive officer of Protective Products of America Inc. and an ex-deputy assistant director at the Secret Service, joined an illegal business deal by agreeing to make payments to an FBI agent posing as a representative of the west African country of Gabon.
Leon’s ruling, which he made from the bench after 12 weeks of trial, resulted in the acquittal of Stephen Giordanella, Caldwell’s predecessor at Protective Products.
“Judge Leon followed the law and made a correct and just decision,” said Paul Calli, lawyer for Giordanella. “Mr. Giordanella should have never been charged. He was innocent.”
Alisa Finelli, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment.
The trial that opened Sept. 28 is the second in a 22-defendant kickback conspiracy case stemming from a fake $15 million weapons deal. It’s the biggest prosecution of individuals accused of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA. A trial of four others arrested in the sting ended in a mistrial in July after a jury failed to agree on a verdict.
The other defendants are John Mushriqui, Jeana Mushriqui, John Godsey and Marc Morales. Each was charged with one count of conspiracy and two to five counts of bribery. The bribery charges carry maximum five-year prison sentences.
All six have pleaded not guilty.
Three of the 22 original defendants pleaded guilty while trials for the remaining 13 are pending.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who oversees the Justice Department’s criminal division, has cited the Gabon case, along with the Galleon Group LLC insider-trading probe, as examples of the government’s readiness to use wiretaps and other undercover techniques traditionally employed against organized crime to pursue white-collar criminals.
Prosecutors accused the defendants of seeking to funnel payments to Gabon’s defense minister in exchange for contracts to provide ammunition, bulletproof vests and body armor for the country’s presidential guard.
The charges stem from a three-year investigation involving an informant who pleaded guilty in an earlier bribery case, recorded phone calls and videotaped meetings with agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation posing as representatives of Gabon, sub-Saharan Africa’s fifth-biggest oil producer.
The government said the defendants agreed to pay a $3 million commission for the business, half of which they were told would be passed on to the country’s defense minister.
The case is U.S. v. Goncalves, 09-cr-00335, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
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