Updated 8:13 a.m., 3/28/12
Federal prosecutors in Washington today asked a judge to throw out charges against three businessmen who earlier pleaded guilty to violating anti-bribery laws in a high-profile undercover sting.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said he would grant the U.S. Justice Department's request. The government's move comes weeks after DOJ abandoned its Foreign Corrupt Practice Act case following two mistrials.
DOJ trial attorney Joseph Lipton said in court that the government still has an active investigation against one of the defendants, Daniel Alvirez, for his alleged role in the sale of military and law enforcement equipment to the Republic of Georgia. Because the investigation is pending, Lipton asked Leon to dismiss without prejudice one count.
An attorney for Alvirez, W. Asa Hutchinson, a former U.S. attorney under the Reagan administration and administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration under President George W. Bush, said in court: “We’re obviously hopeful that this concludes everything today.”
Alvirez and the other two defendants, Jonathan Spiller and Haim Geri, pleaded guilty early last year for their participation in the FBI-led undercover foreign bribery sting. The set-up centered on the sale of $15 million in equipment to the west African nation of Gabon.
DOJ in February announced the government would not seek any additional trial, following the two earlier mistrials. In the earlier cases, three businessmen charged in the scheme were acquitted.
“The government submitted that the continued prosecution of the case was not warranted under the circumstances, given the outcomes of the first two trials, the implications of certain evidentiary and other legal rulings in those trials for future trials, and the substantial resources that would be necessary to proceed with another four or more trials,” DOJ said in court papers filed today.
Geri’s attorneys, Kobre & Kim litigation partner Eric Bruce in Washington and Matthew Menchel in Miami, commended the department. “It would have been a grave injustice for Mr. Geri to be branded a felon as a result of this failed sting operation,” the defense lawyers said. “Haim Geri is a good and decent man, who can now put this unfortunate chapter behind him and start rebuilding his life.”
Spiller's lawyer, O’Melveny & Myers partner Kenneth Wainstein,a former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia under President Bush, said in a written statement this afternoon that “Jonathan Spiller is a good man, and it is only right that he be cleared of these charges.”
One issue remains outstanding: the sentencing of a businessman named Richard Bistrong, the government’s chief cooperator in the Gabon sting investigation and prosecution. Bistrong pleaded guilty in September 2010 to unrelated foreign bribery charges. Lipton asked Leon today to push back sentencing, saying that the government has an interest in Bistrong’s continued cooperation.
Leon said he is “very hesitant” to delay sentencing any longer, noting that the charges to which Bistrong pleaded guilty happened years ago. Leon set another hearing for late April.
“His time is coming,” Leon said in court. “The time has come, I think, that he has to pay his debt to society for what he’s done.”
Bistrong, the judge said, faces a maximum prison term of five years. His attorney, Joseph DiGenova of Washington’s DiGenova & Toensing, is expected to ask for reduced punishment given Bistrong’s extensive cooperation with the FBI and federal prosecutors.