WASHINGTON—Joel Esquenazi and Carlos Rodriguez, former executives of Terra Telecommunications Corp., have been convicted by a federal jury on all counts for their roles in a scheme to pay bribes to Haitian government officials at Telecommunications D’Haiti S.A.M (Haiti Teleco), a state-owned telecommunications company. The jury reached its verdict yesterday after five hours of deliberations, following a two-and-a-half-week trial.
The convictions were announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer for the Southern District of Florida; and Special Agent in Charge Jose A. Gonzalez of Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CID), Miami Field Office.
“These defendants authorized more than $800,000 in illegal bribe payments to Haitian officials in exchange for business advantages – a clear violation of the FCPA,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. “This verdict is another powerful example that bribery of government officials – whether at home or abroad – has serious consequences. In finding the defendants guilty on all charged counts, the jury sent an unmistakable message that paying off foreign officials does not, in fact, pay off.”
“These individuals conspired and made corrupt payments to foreign government officials for the purpose of securing business advantages for their company,” said U.S. Attorney Ferrer. “The FCPA helps to create a more level playing field in which businesses can compete fairly and sends the message that American businesses are simply not up for sale.”
“These convictions send a strong and clear message that we will aggressively pursue investigations on subjects that use shell companies to launder funds,” said IRS Special Agent in Charge Gonzalez. “IRS-CID will utilize its financial investigative expertise to unravel any complex money laundering scheme leaving no financial stones unturned.”
Joel Esquenazi, 52, of Miami, and Carlos Rodriguez, 55, of Davie, Fla., were convicted of one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and wire fraud; seven counts of FCPA violations; one count of money laundering conspiracy; and 12 counts of money laundering.
According to the evidence presented at trial, Esquenazi was the president and Rodriguez was the executive vice president of Terra, which was headquartered in Miami-Dade County, Fla. Haiti Teleco was the sole provider of land line telephone service in Haiti. Terra had a series of contracts with Teleco that allowed the company’s customers to place telephone calls to Haiti.
According to the evidence presented at trial, the defendants participated in a scheme to commit foreign bribery and money laundering from November 2001 through March 2005, during which time the telecommunications company paid more than $890,000 to shell companies to be used for bribes to Teleco officials. Esquenazi and Rodriguez authorized these bribe payments to successive directors of international relations at Teleco.
The purpose of these bribes, according to the evidence presented at trial, was to obtain various business advantages from the Haitian officials for Terra, including the issuance of preferred telecommunications rates, reductions in the number of minutes for which payment was owed, and the continuance of Terra’s telecommunications connection with Haiti. To conceal the bribe payments, the defendants used various shell companies to receive and forward the payments. In addition, they created false records claiming that the payments were for “consulting services,” which were never intended to be performed or actually performed.
Esquenazi was remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals. Rodriguez remains free on bond. Sentencing for both defendants currently is scheduled for Oct. 13, 2011.
On April 27, 2009, Antonio Perez, a former controller at Terra, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and money laundering. On Jan. 12, 2010, he was sentenced to 24 months in prison, which he is currently serving.
On May 15, 2009, Juan Diaz, the president of J.D. Locator Services, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and money laundering. He admitted to receiving more than $1 million in bribe money from telecommunications companies. On July 30, 2010, he was sentenced to 57 months in prison, which he is currently serving.
On Feb. 19, 2010, Jean Fourcand, the president and director of Fourcand Enterprises Inc., pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering for receiving and transmitting bribe monies in the scheme. On May 5, 2010, he was sentenced to six months in prison.
On March 12, 2010, Robert Antoine, a former director of international affairs for Haiti Teleco, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. He admitted to receiving more than $1 million in bribes from Miami-based telecommunications companies. On June 2, 2010, he was sentenced to 48 months in prison, which he is currently serving.
In a superseding indictment, Washington Vasconez Cruz, Amadeus Richers, Cinergy Telecommunications Inc., Patrick Joseph, Jean Rene Duperval and Marguerite Grandison are charged in a related scheme to commit foreign bribery and money laundering from December 2001 through January 2006. No trial date is currently set. An indictment is merely an accusation, and defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The conspiracy to commit violations of the FCPA and wire fraud count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of the greater of $250,000 or twice the value gained or lost. The FCPA counts each carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of the greater of $100,000 or twice the value gained or lost. The conspiracy to commit money laundering count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of the greater of $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction. The money laundering counts each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of the greater of $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction. The indictment also seeks forfeiture which will determined by the court at a later date.
The government’s investigation is ongoing. The Department of Justice is grateful to the government of Haiti for continuing to provide substantial assistance in gathering evidence during this investigation. In particular, Haiti’s financial intelligence unit, the Unité Centrale de Renseignements Financiers (UCREF), the Bureau des Affaires Financières et Economiques (BAFE), which is a specialized component of the Haitian National Police, and the Ministry of Justice and Public Security provided significant cooperation and coordination in this ongoing investigation.
To learn more about the government’s FCPA enforcement efforts, go to www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa.
The case is being prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorneys Nicola J. Mrazek and James M. Koukios of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Aurora Fagan of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs also provided assistance in this matter. The cases were investigated by the IRS-CID Miami Field Office.