Former Venezuelan Official Pleads Guilty to Money Laundering Charge in Connection with Bribery Scheme
A dual U.S.-Venezuelan citizen pleaded guilty today for his role in a scheme to bribe officials of Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), and for his role in an international money laundering scheme involving the bribes paid by the owners of U.S.-based companies to Venezuelan government officials to corruptly secure energy contracts and payment priority on outstanding invoices.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas and Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) Houston Field Office made the announcement.
Luis Carlos De Leon-Perez (De Leon), 42, a citizen of the United States and Venezuela previously residing in Spain, pleaded guilty today in federal court in Houston to one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt of the Southern District of Texas accepted De Leon’s plea. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 24.
De Leon was arrested in Spain in October 2017 and subsequently extradited to the United States after a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Texas returned a 20-count indictment against him and Nervis Gerardo Villalobos Cardenas (Villalobos), 51; Cesar David Rincon Godoy (Cesar Rincon), 51; Alejandro Isturiz Chiesa (Isturiz), 33; and Rafael Ernesto Reiter Munoz (Reiter), 39.
According to admissions made in connection with De Leon’s plea, between 2011 and 2013, he conspired with Villalobos, Cesar Rincon, Isturiz and others, all of whom were then officials of PDVSA and its subsidiaries or former officials of other Venezuelan government agencies or instrumentalities, to solicit PDVSA vendors for bribes and kickbacks in exchange for providing assistance to those vendors in connection with their PDVSA business. Specifically, De Leon admitted that he solicited and directed bribes from Roberto Enrique Rincon Fernandez (Roberto Rincon), 57, of The Woodlands, Texas, and Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas (Shiera), 55, of Coral Gables, Florida, to PDVSA officials in order to assist Roberto Rincon’s and Shiera’s companies, including their U.S.-based companies, in receiving payment priority and receiving additional PDVSA contracts. De Leon further admitted that he then conspired with Roberto Rincon and Shiera to launder and conceal the proceeds of the bribery scheme through a series of financial transactions, including wire transfers to accounts in Switzerland held in the names of individuals or entities other than De Leon and his co-conspirators.
As part of his plea agreement, De Leon also admitted to soliciting bribes from other owners of energy companies based in the United States and elsewhere, and directing a portion of such bribes to PDVSA officials in order to assist those individuals and their companies in winning business with PDVSA and to obtain payment from PDVSA on outstanding invoices ahead of other PDVSA vendors.
Roberto Rincon and Shiera previously pleaded guilty in the Southern District of Texas to charges under the FCPA for their respective roles in the bribery scheme. Cesar Rincon previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. They currently await sentencing.
The charges against Villalobos, Isturiz and Reiter remain pending. Each of the three remaining defendants is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and with one or more counts of money laundering. Villalobos is also charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA. Villalobos and Reiter remain in Spain pending extradition and Isturiz remains at large.
The charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
De Leon is the latest individual to plead guilty as part of a larger, ongoing investigation by the U.S. government into bribery at PDVSA. Including De Leon, Cesar Rincon, Roberto Rincon and Shiera, the Justice Department has announced the guilty pleas of a total of 12 individuals in connection with the investigation.
HSI in Houston is conducting the ongoing investigation with assistance from HSI in Boston and Madrid, as well as from Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation. Trial Attorneys Jeremy R. Sanders and Sarah E. Edwards of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys John P. Pearson and Robert S. Johnson of the Southern District of Texas are prosecuting the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristine Rollinson of the Southern District of Texas is handling the forfeiture aspects of the case.
The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, the Swiss Federal Office of Justice and the Spanish Guardia Civil have provided substantial assistance.
The Fraud Section is responsible for investigating and prosecuting all FCPA matters. Additional information about the Justice Department’s FCPA enforcement efforts can be found at www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa.