HOUSTON – 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). He
also acknowledged 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.
U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick, Assistant Attorney General
Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Special
Agent in Charge Mark Dawson of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE)
Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) Houston Field Office made the
Luis Carlos De Leon-Perez (De Leon), 42, a citizen of the
United States and Venezuela previously residing in Spain, pleaded guilty today
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 accepted the 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 he solicited and directed bribes
from Roberto Enrique Rincon Fernandez (Roberto Rincon), 57, of The Woodlands,
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 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 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
accusation. 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 IRS - Criminal
Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSA) John P. Pearson and Robert S.
Johnson are prosecuting the case along with Trial Attorneys Jeremy R. Sanders
and Sarah E. Edwards of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. AUSA Kristine
Rollinson 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
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.