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Press Release

Texas Businessman Sentenced to 70 Months in Prison for Role in Venezuela Bribery Scheme and Obstruction of Justice

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

A former procurement officer of Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), was sentenced to 70 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release today for laundering the proceeds of a corrupt scheme to secure contracts from PDVSA through bribery, underreporting income on his tax return and obstructing the government’s investigation into bribes paid by the owner of U.S.-based companies to Venezuelan government officials in exchange for securing additional business with Citgo Petroleum Corporation, a Houston-based PDVSA subsidiary. 

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 Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Houston made the announcement.

Alfonzo Eliezer Gravina Munoz (Gravina), 57, of Katy, Texas, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller of the Southern District of Texas.  Judge Miller also ordered Gravina to pay restitution to the IRS in the amount of $214,849.21.  Judge Miller previously entered a final order of forfeiture on May 17, 2017, after Gravina forfeited $590,446 in connection with this case.  Gravina pleaded guilty on Dec. 10, 2015, to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and one count of making false statements in connection with a tax return.  Based on his actions after entry of his guilty plea in 2015, Gravina was indicted on Nov. 15, 2018, on one count of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, to which he pleaded guilty on Dec. 10, 2018.

According to admissions made in connection with Gravina’s December 2015 plea, Gravina accepted bribes from U.S.-based businessmen Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas (Shiera) and Roberto Enrique Rincon Fernandez (Rincon) while employed as a purchasing manager at PDVSA.  This ensured that Shiera’s and Rincon’s companies were placed on PDVSA bidding panels, which enabled the companies to win lucrative energy contracts with PDVSA.  Gravina admitted that he accepted over $590,000 in bribes from 2007 to 2014.  In order to conceal the corrupt payments, Rincon and Shiera transferred funds to Gravina from accounts they controlled outside of the United States to accounts in the names of Gravina’s associates and relatives.  Gravina admitted that he did not report the bribe payments he received from Rincon, Shiera and others as income on his 2010 tax return, thus underreporting his income.  Rincon and Shiera have also pleaded guilty and await sentencing.

After his plea in December 2015, Gravina met periodically with HSI agents to provide information regarding corruption at PDVSA.  Gravina admitted that, during interviews with the government, he concealed facts about bribe payments to officials at Citgo Petroleum Corporation and, at the same time, he provided details about the government’s investigation to a subject of the investigation, including about the topics discussed during Gravina’s meetings with the government.  This passing of information led to the destruction of evidence and to the subject’s attempt to flee the United States in July 2018.

Gravina is the seventh defendant to be sentenced by Judge Miller as part of a larger, ongoing investigation by the U.S. government into bribery at PDVSA.  Including Gravina, Rincon and Shiera, to date, the Justice Department has announced charges against 26 individuals, 20 of whom have pleaded guilty in connection with the investigation.

HSI in Houston is conducting the ongoing investigation with assistance from HSI in Boston and IRS Criminal Investigation.  Trial Attorneys Jeremy R. Sanders, Sarah E. Edwards and Sonali D. Patel of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys John 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 and the Swiss Federal Office of Justice also provided 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.

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice.  Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.  

Updated February 20, 2020

Topics
Financial Fraud
Foreign Corruption
Press Release Number: 20-206