WASHINGTON Ė A former executive of a subsidiary of Houston-based Willbros Group Inc. (WGI) has pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe officials of the government of Nigeria with more than $6 million in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), the Justice Department announced today.
Jason Edward Steph, 37, a U.S. citizen residing in Sunset, Texas, entered his guilty plea before Judge Sim Lake of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Steph was indicted on July 19, 2007.
Willbros, a publicly traded company that provides construction, engineering and other services in the oil and gas industry, conducts international operations through a subsidiary known as Willbros International Inc. (WII). Steph was a WII employee from 1998 to April 2005. From 2002 until April 2005, he served as general manager of WIIís on-shore operations in Nigeria.
As part of his guilty plea, Steph admitted that in late 2003 he, a senior executive in charge of WGIís international business, two purported consultants working for WII, and certain Nigeria-based employees of a major German engineering and construction company, agreed to make a series of corrupt payments totaling more than $6 million. These payments were offered and made to officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (the Nigerian state-owned oil company) and its subsidiary, National Petroleum Investment Management Services, a Nigerian political party, and a senior official in the executive branch of the Nigerian federal government, in order to assist in securing a major gas pipeline construction contract in Nigeria. Steph further admitted that in February and March of 2005 he, former WII executive Jim Bob Brown, and others arranged for the payment of approximately $1.8 million in cash to government officials in Nigeria in furtherance of the conspiracy. Brown pleaded guilty to a similar charge on Sept. 14, 2006.
Steph is cooperating with the governmentís ongoing investigation as part of his plea agreement. The maximum sentence for conspiring to violate the FCPA is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing has been set for Jan. 25, 2008.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Thomas E. Stevens of the Criminal Divisionís Fraud Section. The case continues to be investigated by the Washington Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division. The Fraud Section acknowledges the assistance of the Fort Worth Regional Office of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Fraud Sectionís investigation is ongoing.