Florida Media Company Pleads Guilty to Bribing Soccer Officials | Spanish Parent Company Enters into Non-Prosecution Agreement
Earlier today, in federal court in Brooklyn, US Imagina, LLC (“Imagina US”) pleaded guilty to a criminal information (the “Information”) charging it with two counts of wire fraud conspiracy in connection with the participation of two of its senior executives in schemes to pay more than $6.5 million in bribes to high-ranking officials of the Caribbean Football Union (“CFU”) and four Central American national soccer federations to secure media and marketing rights to those federations’ World Cup qualifier matches. Imagina US, which was previously known as MediaWorld, is a privately held Florida corporation engaged in the businesses of media content creation and audiovisual production, and also has a unit devoted to buying and selling the media and marketing rights to sports events, principally soccer matches. Imagina US is majority-owned by Imagina Media Audiovisual SL (“Imagina Media”), a privately held company based in Barcelona, Spain that is engaged worldwide in the businesses of media content creation, audiovisual production and the purchase and sale of media and marketing rights to sporting events. Also today, Imagina Media, which is also known as MediaPro, entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the government in connection with one its three co-Chief Executive Officers’ (“co-CEOs”) participation in this criminal conduct.
Pursuant to a plea agreement with the government, Imagina US agreed to forfeit $5,279,000 in criminal proceeds from these schemes. Imagina US was also sentenced to pay $3 million in restitution to the CFU, $1.7 million in restitution to the Honduran soccer federation (“FENAFUTH”), $790,000 in restitution to the Guatemalan soccer federation (“FENAFUTG”), $600,000 in restitution to the Costa Rican soccer federation (“FEDEFUT”), and $565,000 in restitution to the Salvadoran soccer federation (“FESFUT”). Imagina US was further sentenced to pay a fine of $12,883,320, which Imagina Media agreed to pay on behalf of Imagina US pursuant to the non-prosecution agreement. Today’s guilty plea and sentencing proceedings took place before United States District Judge Pamela K. Chen.
Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), and R. Damon Rowe, Special Agent-in-Charge, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, Los Angeles Field Office (IRS CI), announced the guilty plea and non-prosecution agreement.
“Corporations that operate in the United States have a responsibility to ensure that their officers do not engage in corrupt conduct and to take steps to root out corrupt conduct as soon as they are put on notice of it,” stated U.S. Attorney Donoghue. “Those that fail to do so will face significant consequences, while those that effectively remediate will receive positive consideration.”
“Using bribery as part of your business plan is a well-known red flag, and this behavior has no place as part of any legitimate business strategy,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney. “US Imagina, LLC is paying the penalty for their activity which only contributes to the erosion of trust between businesses and their clients. We will continue to bring dishonest companies to justice, and hope this plea serves as an example to other corporations who think they can operate using similar moves.”
“Today’s guilty plea is a clear demonstration of IRS Criminal Investigation’s continued commitment to dismantling the corruption that has plagued the world of international soccer,” stated IRS-CI Special Agent-in-Charge Rowe. “Working with our partners at the Department of Justice, we will continue to investigate corporate entities that profit from crooked practices and use the U.S. financial system in the process.”
The Criminal Schemes
According to facts presented during court proceedings in this case and in related cases, the Imagina US and Imagina Media senior executives bribed soccer officials in the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (“CONCACAF”) region in exchange for the media and marketing rights to World Cup qualifier matches. The executives often used false invoices and contracts to disguise the true nature of the bribe payments and, for the same reason, they often transmitted the bribes through bank accounts held by intermediaries in third countries.
With respect to the bribery scheme related to the CFU’s World Cup qualifier rights, one of Imagina Media’s three co-CEOs (identified as Co-Conspirator #1 in the Information) agreed that Imagina Media would be responsible for paying half of a $3 million bribe that Imagina US’s then-partner, the Miami-based sports marketing company Traffic USA, had previously agreed to pay Jeffrey Webb, a senior official of the CFU and the president of CONCACAF. The $3 million bribe was in exchange for a contract awarding Traffic USA the media and marketing rights to CFU members’ home World Cup qualifier matches for the 2018 and 2022 qualification cycles. Co-Conspirator #1 and Imagina US’s CEO, Roger Huguet, then made a $500,000 payment towards Imagina US’s $1.5 million share of the bribe by having an intermediary send a false invoice from a Panamanian shell company to Imagina Media’s Portuguese subsidiary, Medialuso. Co-Conspirator #1 then directed senior executives at Imagina Media and Medialuso, both of whom reported to Co-Conspirator #1, to make the payment.
Many of the executives and soccer officials who paid or received the bribes described in the Information, and their intermediaries, have already pleaded guilty to participating in these bribery schemes, including Roger Huguet, Fabio Tordin, Miguel Trujillo, Jeffrey Webb, Costas Takkas, Alfredo Hawit, Rafael Callejas, Brayan Jiménez, Héctor Trujillo and Eduardo Li. Reynaldo Vasquez of the Salvadoran soccer federation has been indicted for receiving bribes as part of this scheme but has not yet appeared before the Court. Traffic USA has also pleaded guilty.
Imagina Media’s Initial Failure to Conduct an Internal Investigation
On May 27, 2015, an indictment in the Eastern District of New York captioned United States v. Jeffrey Webb et al., 15-CR-252 (PKC) (the “First Indictment”) was unsealed. The First Indictment charged Webb and others with participating in the CFU World Cup qualifiers scheme and also alleged that additional, anonymized co-conspirators were involved in the scheme. According to the non-prosecution agreement, within days after the First Indictment was unsealed, Imagina Media’s senior management knew that these additional anonymized co-conspirators were Co-Conspirator #1 and Huguet, and that Imagina Media had been anonymously identified in the First Indictment as “Sports Marketing Company C.” Co-Conspirator #1 denied to other members of Imagina Media’s senior management that he had been involved in a scheme to pay bribes to Webb or anyone else.
For months after the First Indictment was unsealed, Imagina Media’s management did not conduct an internal investigation or make any serious inquiry to determine whether any of the allegations in it relating to Co-Conspirator #1 or Huguet were true. In July 2015, Imagina Media issued a press release, in English and Spanish, in which it denied that there was any evidence that it was the “Sports Marketing Company C” named in the First Indictment, even though it knew that it was in fact Sports Marketing Company C. In the same press release, Imagina Media denied that it paid any bribes.
In December 2015, promptly after a superseding indictment and the guilty pleas of Huguet and Imagina US executive Fabio Tordin were unsealed, Imagina Media suspended and then terminated Co-Conspirator #1, Huguet, and Tordin, and retained counsel to conduct an internal investigation.
The Non-Prosecution Agreement
Pursuant to the non-prosecution agreement it entered today, Imagina Media has accepted responsibility for its criminal conduct and that of its subsidiary Imagina US, and has also accepted responsibility for its failure to conduct a prompt internal investigation upon learning of the allegations against its agents in the First Indictment. Imagina Media has accepted responsibility by, among other things: (a) causing Imagina US to plead guilty to the two counts in the Information and honor all of the terms of Imagina US’s plea agreement with the government, and (b) agreeing to pay the criminal penalty of $12,883,320 imposed on Imagina US as part of its sentence. In consideration of this acceptance of responsibility, Imagina Media’s remedial actions to date, including the termination of Co-Conspirator #1, Roger Huguet and Fabio Tordin and the hiring of a new CEO, Chief Financial Officer and General Counsel, among others, at Imagina US, and its commitment to, among other things: (a) accept and acknowledge responsibility for its conduct; (b) continue its cooperation; (c) implement enhanced internal controls and a rigorous corporate compliance program that includes policies and procedures at Imagina US, Imagina Media and Imagina Media’s other subsidiaries and affiliates designed to detect and deter violations of all applicable federal, state and foreign anti-corruption laws, the government entered a non-prosecution agreement with Imagina Media and agreed to a 10 percent reduction from the low end of the applicable Sentencing Guidelines fine range. If Imagina Media violates the non-prosecution agreement, it is subject to full criminal prosecution.
The guilty plea and non-prosecution agreement announced today are part of an investigation into corruption in international soccer led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the FBI New York Field Office, and the IRS CI Los Angeles Field Office. The prosecutors in Brooklyn are receiving considerable assistance from attorneys in various parts of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division in Washington, D.C., including the Office of International Affairs, the Organized Crime and Gang Section, the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, and the Fraud Section, as well as from INTERPOL Washington.
The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s FIFA Task Force and the Business and Securities Fraud Section. Assistant United States Attorneys Paul Tuchmann, David Pitluck, Samuel P. Nitze and Brian D. Morris of the Eastern District of New York are in charge of the prosecution.
The government’s investigation is ongoing.
US IMAGINA, LLC
Place of Organization: Florida
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 18-CR-311 (PKC)
United States Attorney’s Office