A judge in Washington today threw out the conspiracy charge against six defendants in a high-profile foreign bribery case and acquitted one businessman outright, saying that prosecutors failed to provide enough evidence to sustain a conviction.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon's decision today was a blow for the U.S. Justice Department in the high-profile Foreign Corrupt Practices Act case, touted as the largest-ever prosecution of individuals under the 34-year-old law.
Prosecutors charged 22 people in the arms and law enforcement equipment industry for allegedly participating in a conspiracy to bribe the defense minister of Gabon. The $15 million deal to provide defense industry equipment to the West African country, however, was all a ruse. Undercover FBI agents and a defense industry cooperator orchestrated the sting.
A mistrial was declared in July for the first four defendants to challenge the government’s evidence in front of a jury. The latest trial, which involves six other defendants, began in September.
After prosecutors finished presenting the government’s case, Leon ruled in favor of a motion for judgment of acquittal, striking the overarching conspiracy count against all six defendants on trial.
Leon today acquitted Stephen Giordanella, who was only charged in the conspiracy and not with a substantive violation of the FCPA. Carlton Fields partners Stephen Bronis and Paul Calli represented Giordanella, 52, a Florida resident who sells body armor.
In a statement, Bronis called the prosecution an “unnecessary and unfortunate experience” for Giordanella. Calli said in an interview that “we are absolutely grateful the court ruled in this just manner. Mr. Giordanella was innocent and should never have been charged.”
A Justice Department spokeswoman this afternoon declined to comment on Leon's decision.
Leon's ruling comes days after he criticized prosecutors for mishandling evidence in the case. The judge voided a portion of the testimony from a key witness.