Prosecutors today in Washington began their pitch to convince jurors that a group of arms and equipment dealers conspired to bribe an African defense minister in a two-year undercover investigation.
The sting, which ensnared 22 people in January 2010, marked the U.S. Justice Department’s first major use of undercover tactics in a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigation.
The prosecution is built on a series of recorded phone calls and videotaped meetings between a cooperating witness named Richard Bistrong and executives in the arms and equipment industry who believed they were participating in the sale of $15 million in equipment to the West African nation of Gabon. The deal was a ruse.
Laura Perkins, a DOJ trial attorney in the Criminal Division, today delivered the government’s opening statement. “This is a case about international bribery and the savvy business people who seek to profit from it,” Perkins told jurors.
Foreign bribery, Perkins said, blocks American businesses from competing on a level playing field. “We want American people and American businesses to export goods, not corruption,” she said in court.
Perkins dismissed defense arguments that the defendants are victims of an overzealous, poorly run law enforcement investigation that employed the services of a corrupt businessman as its lead actor. The prosecutor said only greed is to blame. Bistrong has pleaded guilty in a foreign bribery case in Washington and is awaiting sentencing.
Four of the 22 defendants have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government. At least one of the cooperators, Jonathan Spiller, represented by O’Melveny & Myers partner Kenneth Wainstein, is expected to testify for the government at trial before U.S. District Judge Richard Leon.
Charles Leeper, an attorney for one of the defendants, complained in court papers in August that “outrageous government misconduct” taints the underlying investigation of the collective defendants.
Leeper, a white-collar defense partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath in Washington, asked Leon to defer ruling on the motion until after the government presents its case. The trial in the first case lasted several weeks.
Defense lawyers in the first trial attacked the integrity of the prosecution, saying the government "invented a crime."
The first trial of four defendants in the group ended in a hung jury this summer in Washington federal district court. Those defendants are rescheduled for a second trial early next year.
Prosecutors who participated in the first case—including Jonathan Haray, an assistant U.S. attorney, and Joey Lipton, a Fraud Section trial attorney—were spotted in the packed courtroom this morning.
The Fraud Section’s top prosecutor, Denis McInerney, also made an appearance, sitting with a throng of DOJ lawyers and staff.