DOJ Drops FCPA Sting Case
By Rachel G. Jackson | February 21, 2022 10:02 am

Justice Department prosecutors moved Tuesday to dismiss a Washington, D.C., foreign bribery sting case after a series of mistrials and several acquittals.

“Continued prosecution of this case is not warranted under the circumstances,” prosecutors wrote in their motion to dismiss the indictment.

The Justice Department’s case failed twice to win convictions. In the first round of the trial, four defendants received a mistrial due to a hung jury. In the second, jurors acquitted two defendants before declaring themselves deadlocked on the remaning three, prompting U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon to declare a second mistrial. An earlier ruling by Leon to dismiss a conspiracy charge in the case had acquitted a third defendant.

Prosecutors had two more rounds of defendants to go, in addition to the mistrials they planned to retry. But Justice Department Fraud Section senior trial attorney Joey Lipton said at a hearing earlier this month that Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer and U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen of the District of Columbia were weighing whether to move forward with prosecutions.

In 2010, 22 defendants in all were charged with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for allegedly agreeing to pay kickbacks to the minister of defense of Gabon in exchange for contracts to supply the West African country’s presidential guard. The deal was run as a sting by an informant, Richard Bistrong, and undercover FBI agents. No members of the Gabonese government were involved. Bistrong agreed to cooperate with the federal government as part of a plea agreement after he was caught by his employer, Armor Holdings Inc., paying bribes to United Nations officials and others.

Three defendants — Jonathan Spiller, Daniel Alvirez and Haim Geri -- all pleaded guilty before the trials began.

The mistrials were not the only factor in the decision. Prosecutors mentioned “[t]he impact of certain evidentiary and other legal rulings in the first two trials and the implications of those rulings for future trials,” pointing specifically to “Rule 404(b) and other knowledge and intent evidence the government proposed to introduce.” (See here for Just Anti-Corruption’s analysis of the excluded intent evidence and how it may have changed the case).

They also pointed out the significant resources required from all parties to move forward with the two remaining first round trials and the two retrials. The first trial lasted six weeks; the second stretched to three-and-a-half months.

Lipton, trial attorney Laura Perkins and Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew C. Solomon of the District of Columbia authored the motion.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

The Justice Department had touted the sting as ushering an new era of enforcement for the FCPA, which prohibits payments to foreign officials to win business. “From now on, would-be FCPA violators should stop and ponder whether the person they are trying to bribe might really be a federal agent,” Breuer said at a press conference announcing the arrests in January 2010.

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Mary B. Jacoby

Mary Jacoby is the founder of Main Justice and Editor-in-Chief of Just Anti-Corruption.

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