A senior official in Venezuela’s state economic development bank has pleaded guilty in New York federal court to accepting bribes from agents and employees of a New York-based broker-dealer (Broker-Dealer) in exchange for directing her bank’s security-trading business to the Broker-Dealer.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York, and Assistant Director in Charge George Venizelos of the New York Office of the FBI made the announcement.
Maria De Los Angeles Gonzalez De Hernandez, 55, pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer in the Southern District of New York to conspiring to violate the Travel Act and to commit money laundering, as well as substantive counts of these offenses. Sentencing for Gonzalez is scheduled for Aug. 15, 2014, before Judge Engelmayer.
At all times relevant to the charges, Banco de Desarrollo Económico y Social de Venezuela (BANDES) was a state-run economic development bank in Venezuela. The Venezuelan government had a majority ownership interest in BANDES and provided it with substantial funding.
According to court records, Gonzalez was an official at BANDES and oversaw the development bank’s overseas trading activity. At her direction, BANDES conducted substantial trading through the Broker-Dealer. Most of the trades executed by the Broker-Dealer on behalf of BANDES involved fixed income investments for which the Broker-Dealer charged the bank a mark-up on purchases and a mark-down on sales.
From early 2009 through 2012, Gonzalez participated in a bribery scheme in which she directed trading business she controlled at BANDES to the Broker-Dealer and, in return, agents and employees of the Broker-Dealer shared the revenue the Broker-Dealer generated from this trading business with Gonzalez. During this time period, the Broker-Dealer generated over $60 million in mark-ups and mark-downs from trades with BANDES. Agents and employees of the Broker-Dealer devised a split with Gonzalez of the commissions paid by BANDES to the Broker-Dealer. Emails, account records, and other documents collected from the Broker-Dealer and other sources reveal that Gonzalez received a substantial share of the revenue generated by the Broker-Dealer for BANDES-related trades. Specifically, Gonzalez received millions in bribe payments from Broker-Dealer agents and employees.
Additionally, Gonzalez paid a portion of the bribe payments she received to another BANDES employee who was also involved in the scheme.
To further conceal the scheme, the kickbacks to Gonzalez were often paid using intermediary corporations and offshore accounts that Gonzalez and others held in Switzerland, among other places.
Previously, three former employees of the Broker-Dealer – Ernesto Lujan, Jose Alejandro Hurtado, and Tomas Alberto Clarke Bethancourt – each pleaded guilty in New York federal court to conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), to violate the Travel Act and to commit money laundering, as well as substantive counts of these offenses, relating, among other things, to the scheme involving bribe payments to Gonzalez. Sentencing for Lujan and Clarke is scheduled for Feb. 11, 2014, before U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe. Hurtado is scheduled for sentencing before U.S. District Judge Harold Baer Jr. on March 6, 2014.
This ongoing investigation is being conducted by the FBI, with assistance from the SEC and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs. Assistant Chief James Koukios and Trial Attorneys Maria Gonzalez Calvet and Aisling O’Shea of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant United States Attorneys Harry A. Chernoff and Jason H. Cowley of the Southern District of New York’s Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force are in charge of the prosecution. Assistant United States Attorney Carolina Fornos is also responsible for the forfeiture aspects of the case.
Additional information about the Justice Department’s FCPA enforcement efforts can be
found at www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa