Former Willbros International Executives Sentenced to Prison for Their Roles in $6 Million Foreign Bribery Scheme
Two former executives of Willbros International Inc. (WII), a subsidiary of Houston-based Willbros Group Inc. (Willbros), were sentenced today for their roles in a conspiracy to pay more than $6 million in bribes to government officials of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and officials from a Nigerian political party, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division and Acting Assistant Director in Charge John G. Perren of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.
Jason Edward Steph, 40, was sentenced today to 15 months in prison by U.S. District Court Judge Simeon T. Lake III in Houston. In addition to the prison sentence, Judge Lake ordered Steph to serve two years of supervised release following his prison term and to pay a $2,000 fine. The court acknowledged at the sentencing hearing the assistance Steph provided in ongoing investigations.
Jim Bob Brown, 48, was sentenced today to 12 months and one day in prison by Judge Lake. In addition to the prison sentence, Judge Lake ordered Brown to serve two years of supervised release following his prison term and to pay a fine of $1,000 per month while Brown is on supervised release. The court acknowledged at the sentencing hearing the assistance Brown provided in ongoing investigations.
Steph and Brown both had pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) before Judge Lake in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. In pleading guilty, Steph and Brown admitted that Willbros, a publicly traded company that provides construction, engineering and other services in the oil and gas industry, conducted its international operations through WII and that they were both employees of WII. Steph admitted that beginning in approximately late 2003, he conspired with others to make a series of corrupt payments totaling more than $6 million to various Nigerian officials and officials from a Nigerian political party to assist Willbros in obtaining and retaining the Eastern Gas Gathering System (EGGS) Project, which was valued at approximately $387 million.
Steph also admitted that in early 2005, he, along with former WII executive Brown and others, arranged for the payment of approximately $1.8 million in cash to government officials in Nigeria to further the conspiracy. Steph admitted that in order to make these payments, he obtained $550,000 in cash from another co-conspirator, for the purpose of paying that money to Nigerian government officials. He also admitted that he obtained approximately $350,000 from a petty cash account, which was raised over several weeks by falsely inflating petty cash funding requests transmitted to Willbros and by covering the inflated amounts with invoices from fictitious vendors representing purportedly legitimate business expenses.
Brown admitted that in early 2005, he conspired with others to pay bribes to government officials in Nigeria for the purpose of retaining the EGGS Project. Brown admitted that to further this conspiracy, he, with the assistance of others, obtained a suitcase filled with $1 million in cash from a WII’s German construction company partner, which Brown then paid to another co-conspirator for the purpose of forwarding that money to Nigerian government officials.
Brown also admitted that in at least 1996 and continuing through at least 2004, he conspired with others to negotiate lower federal and state tax obligations in exchange for corrupt, "under the table" payments to Nigerian revenue officials, including officials responsible for auditing and enforcing taxes for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business and for securing an improper advantage. Brown admitted he also conspired with others to make corrupt payments to officials of the Nigerian judicial system in exchange for favorable action on pending cases, for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business and for securing an improper advantage.
Additionally, Brown admitted to making at least $300,000 in corrupt payments to Ecuadorian government officials affiliated with PetroEcuador and PetroCommercial, for the purpose of obtaining and retaining business for Willbros, WII and others, including the Proyecto Santo Domingo project. In connection with the Ecuador transaction, Brown and others agreed to pay $150,000 to the Ecuadorian officials up front and $150,000 at the project’s conclusion.
To date, in addition to Steph and Brown, the prosecution in this matter also includes:
- On Nov. 12, 2009, former WII consultant Paul Novak pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and one substantive count of violating the FCPA, in connection with his role in paying bribes to Nigerian government officials. Novak’s sentencing is currently scheduled for July 9, 2010.
- On Dec. 19, 2008, an indictment was unsealed against former Willbros executive Kenneth Tillery, charging him with conspiring to make more than $6.3 million in bribe payments to Nigerian and Ecuadoran officials; two individual counts of violating the FCPA in connection with the authorization of specific corrupt payments to officials in those countries; and one count of conspiring to launder the bribe payments through purported consulting companies. He remains a fugitive.
- On May 14, 2008, Willbros entered into a deferred prosecution agreement and agreed to pay a $22 million criminal penalty, in connection with the company’s payment of bribes to government officials in Nigeria and Ecuador.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant Chief Hank Bond Walther and Trial Attorney Laura N. Perkins of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office squad that specializes in investigations of FCPA violations.