The Justice Department announced a guilty plea to FCPA charges by Sargeant Marine, Inc., a privately-owned company, based in Boca Raton, Florida. Sargeant Marine, an asphalt company, plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA and agreed to pay a fine of $16.6 million for bribery schemes in Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador.
Between 2010 and 2018, Sargeant Marine paid millions of dollars in bribes to foreign officials in Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador to secure contracts to purchase or sell asphalt to state-owned and state-controlled oil companies.
Recently, DOJ unsealed guilty pleas to charges by five individuals who participated in the bribery scheme. The five individuals included: (1) Daniel Sargeant, a senior executive at Sargeant Marine; (2) Jose Tomas Meneses, a Sargeant Marine trader; (3 and 4) Luiz Eduardo Andrade and David Diaz, consultants who acted as intermediaries funneling bribes in Brazil and Venezuela; and (5) Hector Nuñez Troyano, a former PDVSA official who received bribes in connection with the Venezuela contracts.
Roberto Finocchi, a Sargeant Marine trader, pleaded guilty in November 2017 for his role in the Brazil bribery scheme. On September 10, 2020, a criminal complaint was unsealed in federal court in the Eastern District of New York against a former PDVSA official with conspiracy to commit money laundering for his alleged role in Sargeant Marine’s Venezuela bribery scheme.
In Brazil, Sargeant Marine bribed a Brazil Minister, a high-ranking member of the Brazilian Congress and senior executives at Petrobras, the state-owned oil and gas company, to secure valuable contracts to sell asphalt. As part of the scheme, Sargeant Marine entered into sham consulting agreements with third-party intermediaries. After receiving fake invoices, Sargeant Marine sent international wires from its bank accounts to offshore bank accounts maintained by shell companies connected to the bribery intermediaries. The intermediaries used a portion of the commissions to pay bribes to Brazilian government officials on Sargeant Marine’s behalf, by wire to the officials’ offshore shell companies accounts or in cash payments made in Brazil.
Between 2012 and 2018, Sargeant Marine bribed four PDVSA officials in Venezuela in exchange for inside information and their assistance in steering PDVSA contracts to a Sargeant Marine nominee company for the purchase of asphalt. To disguise the names of the four PDVSA officials, members of the conspiracy used code names to hide the identities of the PDVSA officials who received the bribes, referencing them as “oiltrader,” “Tony,” and “Tony2.” When referring to the confidential inside information was called “Chocolates.”
Like the Brazil scheme, Sargeant Marine disguised the bribery payments to intermediaries by executing fake consulting agreements with a bribe intermediary and wiring commission payments into U.S. and offshore bank accounts controlled by the intermediary, who then made the bribery payments to PDVSA officials.
In 2014, Sargeant Marine bribed an officials at Ecuador’s state-owned oil company, Petroecuador, to secure a contract to supply asphalt. Sargeant Marine used the same means to carry out the scheme as it used in Brazil and Venezuela. Sargeant Marine engaged a bribe intermediary with close ties to a decision-maker at Petroecuador and then paid commissions to the bribe intermediary in accordance with a sham consulting agreement. The intermediary then paid the Petroecuador official on Sargeant Marine’s behalf.