Federal prosecutors in court Monday defended a two-year-long undercover foreign bribery sting by the government, saying the executives and employees charged in the investigation knew a foreign official was supposed to receive an illegal payment as part of a supply contract.
The foreign official in the sting was, it turns out, fake. And the deal to sell $15 million in arms and equipment was all a government-controlled ruse. Last year, the authorities charged 22 people for their alleged participation in a conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Defense lawyers in the case in Washington's federal trial court today urged Judge Richard Leon to throw out the prosecution because of alleged outrageous government conduct.
Michael Rubinstein of Tampa’s Cohen, Foster & Romine, who represents a businessman named John Wier III, argued today the government, through a cooperating defendant created a conspiracy among industry executives and employees who had little to no ties among each other.
“It should shock the conscience when the government just invents a crime,” Rubinstein said.
The Justice Department’s Joey Lipton, a fraud section prosecutor, said individuals charged in the sting never hesitated, never showed surprise. “There was no concern” about the deal, Lipton said. He said the executives and employees knew they were participating in a larger deal and were not alone in a “silo.”
Leon said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has set a high standard for dismissal based on outrageous government conduct—including evidence of coercion and physical violence.
The judge seemed inclined to let jurors decide whether the government crossed a line in its sting. He noted that the defense lawyers in the case will have another shot at arguing the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction.
Assuming, that is, that any of the defendants go to trial. Several defendants have already pleaded guilty. Leon did not immediately rule Monday afternoon.