Venezuelan Shipping Broker Arrested In Multimillion Dollar Oil Industry Kickback Scheme
|Dec. 5, 2011|
HOUSTON – A superseding indictment has now been unsealed charging four Venezuelans associated with shipping broker Lake Huron Chartering in a multimillion dollar kickback scheme, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today.
The superseding indictment, returned in December 2010, charged seven defendants with conspiring to engage in a kickback scheme that resulted in charging Houston Refining LP, a subsidiary of LyondellBassell Industries, approximately $82 million above published market prices for the cost of shipping oil from Venezuela to a Houston refinery. Three of the defendants, former Lyondell employee Jon Barnes and international oil traders Bernard Langley and Clyde Meltzer, were arrested in 2010. All three have pleaded guilty and are in custody awaiting sentencing.
Today, United States District Judge Sim Lake entered an order unsealing the entire superseding indictment, which revealed the names of the following four defendants associated with Venezuelan company Lake Huron Chartering and Panamanian company Lake Huron Group: Alireza Etessami, Gustavo Gimeno, Denny J. Martinez and Guillermo Nones. On Nov. 25, 2011, Etessami was arrested upon his arrival at Miami International Airport on a flight from Venezuela. On Nov. 28, Etessami, 37, made his initial appearance in federal court in Miami. He remains in federal custody and is being transferred to Houston. Gimeon, Martinez and Nones remain at large and are believed to reside in Venezuela. Their photos are attached.
According to the superseding indictment and other court records in this case, Houston Refinery imports most of its crude oil from Venezuela. The shipping of that oil is a significant expense typically based on published market rates. In late 2006, Barnes became the marine chartering manger at Houston Refinery responsible for entering into agreements and prices with shipping companies. At that time, he entered into a kickback arrangement with Langley and Meltzer in which he entered into contracts for shipping with their company Fossil Energy Resources, in exchange for receiving a portion of the profits. In mid-2009, Barnes entered into a similar kickback arrangement with Etessami, Gimeno, Martinez and Nones. Barnes agreed to inflated prices for shipping with Lake Huron. After receipt of the inflated payments, Lake Huron wired millions of dollars in kickbacks to Barnes. Etessami, Gimeno, Martinez and Nones then split the remaining proceeds.
Etessami is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and two counts of wire fraud. All three counts carry a maximum punishment of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. A trial date for Etessami will be set at his arraignment in Houston federal court. A date for that hearing has not yet been set. The superseding indictment also seeks forfeiture of Lake Huron bank accounts in the United States and Panama. To date in this matter, the United States has obtained orders forfeiting assets valued at approximately $25 million.
The case was investigated by the United States Postal Inspection Service with the assistance of LyondellBasell Industries. For their invaluable assistance during the course of the investigation, United States Attorney Magidson wishes to expressly thank and recognize the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs and the governments of the British Virgin Islands, France, Panama, and Switzerland. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Gregg Costa and Jason Varnado, while forfeiture matters are being handled by Assistant United States Attorney Kristine Rollinson.
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.
A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.