[This post is part of a periodic series regarding "old" FCPA enforcement actions]
This post highlights related Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions brought by the DOJ in the early 1990s concerning an alleged scheme to sell buses to the Saskatchewan, Canada Transportation Company (STC), an alleged instrumentality of the Canadian government.
The enforcement action was a bumpy road for the DOJ. Among other things, both the trial court and appellate court rebuked the DOJ’s position that the alleged “foreign officials” could be charged with conspiracy to violate the FCPA and both decisions contain an extensive review of the FCPA’s legislative history. As to the alleged bribe payors, two defendants put the DOJ to its burden of proof at trial and were acquitted.
In March 1990, the DOJ charged George Morton in this criminal information with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions. Morton is described as a Canadian national agent who represented Texas-based Eagle Bus Manufacturing Inc. (a subsidiary of issuer Greyhound Lines, Inc.) in connection with the sale of buses in Canada. According to the information, Morton conspired with others in paying $50,000 to alleged Canadian “foreign officials” to obtain or retain business for Eagle Bus in violation of the FCPA.
The foreign officials were Darrell Lowry and Donald Castle, both Canadian nationals, and the Vice-President and President, respectively, of Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC), an alleged instrumentality of the government of the Province of Saskatchewan.
The information specifically alleged that Morton requested “that Eagle pay money, in the sum of approximately two percent of the purchase price of 11 buses to be purchased by STC from Eagle, to officials of STC in order to ensure that Eagle received a contract for the sale of the buses.” The information also alleged that Morton and others “offered, promised and agreed to pay, and authorized the payment of money to officials of the government of the Province of Saskatchewan in order for Eagle to obtain and retain a contract to sell buses to STC.”
According to the information, Morton and his conspirators used “various methods to conceal the conspiracy in order to insure the continuing existence and success of the conspiracy, including but not limited to: preparing and using false invoices and other documentation; and arranging to have an STC check drawn payable to a corporation owned and controlled by Morton and converting the proceeds into Canadian currency.”
The information alleges, as to overt acts among other things, that Morton traveled from Canada to Texas “to discuss the payment of money to officials of STC in order to obtain and retain a contract to sell the 11 buses.”
In this plea agreement, Morton pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the DOJ.
This “Factual Resume” in the Morton case suggests that the purchase price of the buses was approximately $2.77 million. It further suggests that Lowry told Morton “that a payment of Canadian $50,000 would be necessary in order for Eagle to ensure that the bus contract would be approved by STC’s Board of Directors” and that “Morton, whose compensation from Eagle was dependent upon the transaction being completed, agreed to attempt to obtain Eagle’s agreement to make the requested payment.” The Factual Resume further suggested that, while in Texas, “Morton met with Eagle’s President, John Blondek, and with Vernon Tull, a Vice-President of Eagle” and that “at the meeting, it was agreed that the requested payment would be made.”
A few days after Morton pleaded guilty, the DOJ filed this criminal indictment against Blondek and Tull (the Eagle executives) and Castle and Lowry (the alleged “foreign officials”).
The allegations were based on the same core conduct alleged in the Morton information and the indictment charged all defendants with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions. Original source media reports suggest that videotaped evidence existed in which Tull told an official at Greyhound (who helped the FBI arrange the videotaped exchange) that Lowry was accepting the money for “political purposes.”
Castle and Lowry moved to dismiss the charge against them on the basis that “as Canadian officials, they cannot be convicted of the offense charged against them.” In this June 1990 Memorandum Opinion and Order (741 F.Supp. 116), the trial court granted the motion. The issues, as framed by the court, were as follows.
“[It is undisputed] that Defendants Castle and Lowry could not be charged with violating the FCPA itself, since the Act does not criminalize the receipt of a bribe by a foreign official. The issue here is whether the government may prosecute Castle and Lowry under the general conspiracy statute, 18 USC 371, for conspiring to violate the FCPA. Put more simply, the question is whether foreign officials, whom the government concedes it cannot prosecute under the FCPA itself, may be prosecuted under the general conspiracy statute for conspiring to violate the Act.”
By analogizing to a prior Supreme Court [Gebardi v. U.S.] which addressed a similar issue, the court stated:
“Congress intended in both the FCPA [and the statute at issue in Gebardi] to deter and punish certain activities which necessarily involved the agreement of at least two people, but Congress chose in both statute to punish only one party to the agreement. In Gebardi the Supreme Court refused to disregard Congress’ intention to exempt one party by allowing the Executive to prosecute that party under the general conspiracy statute for precisely the same conduct. Congress made the same choice in drafting the FCPA, and by the same analysis, this Court may not allow the Executive to override the Congressional intent not to prosecute foreign officials for their participation in the prohibited acts.”
The court next reviewed the FCPA’s legislative history and concluded that “Congress had absolutely no intention of prosecuting the foreign officials involved, but was concerned solely with regulating the conduct of U.S. entities and citizens.”
In rejecting the DOJ’s position, the court stated, among other things as follows.
“… Congress knew it had the power to reach foreign officials in many cases, and yet declined to exercise that power. Congress’s awareness of the extent of its own power reveals the fallacy in the government’s position that only those classes of persons deemed by Congress to need protection are exempted from prosecution under the conspiracy statute. The question is not whether Congress could have included foreign officials within the Act’s proscriptions, but rather whether Congress intended to do so, or more specifically, whether Congress intended the general conspiracy statute, passed many years before the FCPA, to reach foreign officials.” (emphasis in original).
The court then stated:
“The drafters of the statute knew that they could, consistently with international law, reach foreign officials in certain circumstances. But they were equally well aware of, and actively considered, the “inherent jurisdictional, enforcement, and diplomatic difficulties” raised by the application of the bill to non-citizens of the United States. See H.R.Conf.Rep. No. 831, 95th Cong., 1st Sess. 14, reprinted in 1977 U.S. Cong. & Admin.News 4121, 4126. In the conference report, the conferees indicated that the bill would reach as far as possible, and listed all the persons or entities who could be prosecuted. The list includes virtually every person or entity involved, including foreign nationals who participated in the payment of the bribe when the U.S. courts had jurisdiction over them. Id. But foreign officials were not included.
It is important to remember that Congress intended that these persons would be covered by the Act itself, without resort to the conspiracy statute. Yet the very individuals whose participation was required in every case—the foreign officials accepting the bribe—were excluded from prosecution for the substantive offense. Given that Congress included virtually every possible person connected to the payments except foreign officials, it is only logical to conclude that Congress affirmatively chose to exempt this small class of persons from prosecution.
Most likely Congress made this choice because U.S. businesses were perceived to be the aggressors, and the efforts expended in resolving the diplomatic, jurisdictional, and enforcement difficulties that would arise upon the prosecution of foreign officials was not worth the minimal deterrent value of such prosecutions. Further minimizing the deterrent value of a U.S. prosecution was the fact that many foreign nations already prohibited the receipt of a bribe by an official. See S.Rep. No. 114 at 4, 1977 U.S. Cong. & Admin.News at 4104 (testimony of Treasury Secretary Blumenthal that in many nations such payments are illegal). In fact, whenever a nation permitted such payments, Congress allowed them as well.
Based upon the language of the statute and the legislative history, this Court finds in the FCPA what the Supreme Court in Gebardi found in the Mann Act: an affirmative legislative policy to leave unpunished a well-defined group of persons who were necessary parties to the acts constituting a violation of the substantive law. The Government has presented no reason why the prosecution of Defendants Castle and Lowry should go forward in the face of the congressional intent not to prosecute foreign officials. If anything, the facts of this case support Congress’ decision to forego such prosecutions since foreign nations could and should prosecute their own officials for accepting bribes. Under the revised statutes of Canada the receipt of bribes by officials is a crime, with a prison term not to exceed five years, see Criminal Code, R.S.C. c. C–46, s. 121 (pp. 81–84) (1985), and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been actively investigating the case, apparently even before any arrests by U.S. officials. Defendant Castle’s and Lowry’s Supplemental Memorandum In Support of Motion to Dismiss, filed May 14, 1990, at 10. In fact, the Canadian police have informed Defendant Castle’s counsel that charges will likely be brought against Defendants Castle and Lowry in Canada. Id. at 10 & nn. 3–4. Thus, prosecution and punishment will be accomplished by the government which most directly suffered the abuses allegedly perpetrated by its own officials, and there is no need to contravene Congress’ desire to avoid such prosecutions by the United States.
As in Gebardi, it would be absurd to take away with the earlier and more general conspiracy statute the exemption from prosecution granted to foreign officials by the later and more specific FCPA. Following the Supreme Court’s admonition in an analogous criminal case that “[a]ll laws are to be given a sensible construction; and a literal application of a statute, which would lead to absurd consequences, should be avoided whenever a reasonable application can be given to it, consistent with the legislative purpose,” [...] the Court declines to extend the reach of the FCPA through the application of the conspiracy statute.”
Accordingly, Defendants Castle and Lowry may not be prosecuted for conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and the indictment against them is Dismissed.”
It is also interesting to note that the trial court observed as follows regarding the FCPA’s legislative history.
“The legislative history repeatedly cited the negative effects the revelations of such bribes had wrought upon friendly foreign governments and officials. [...] Yet the drafters acknowledged, and the final law reflects this, that some payments that would be unethical or even illegal within the United States might not be perceived similarly in foreign countries, and those payments should not be criminalized.”
The DOJ appealed the trial court’s dismissal of the conspiracy charge against Castle and Lowry. In this March 1991 5th Circuit opinion (925 F.2d 831) the court stated:
“We hold that foreign officials may not be prosecuted under 18 USC 371 for conspiring to violate the FCPA. The scope of our holding, as well as the rationale that undergirds it, is fully set out in [the trial court opinion] which we adopt and attach as an appendix hereto.”
In this July 1991 superseding indictment, the DOJ charged Blondek and Tull with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, Blondek with two substantive FCPA anti-bribery violations and Tull with three substantive FCPA anti-bribery violations. In addition, the superseding indictment charged Blondek, Tull, Castle and Lowry with violating 18 USC 1952 (interstate and foreign travel or transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises – also known as the Travel Act).
In October 1991, the DOJ filed this Civil Complaint for Permanent Injunction against Eagle Bus based on the same core conduct. Without admitting or denying the allegations in the complaint, in this Consent and Undertaking Eagle Bus agreed to a Final Judgment of Permanent Injunction enjoining the company from future FCPA violations. Of note, the Consent and Undertaking states:
“[Eagle Bus] has cooperated completely with the Department of Justice in a criminal investigation arising from the circumstances described in the complaint [...] and will continue to cooperate. The DOJ has agreed that, in the event neither Eagle Bus, nor its parent corporation Greyhound Lines shall violate the FCPA during the period of the following three years, the DOJ will not object to the defendant’s subsequent motion to dissolve the permanent injunction.”
This February 1992 DOJ Motion for Downward Departure in Morton’s case states as follows.
“Morton cooperated with the United States in the investigation and indictment of defendants John Blondek, Donald Castle, Darrell Lowry and Vernon Tull. Blondek and Tull were tried and acquitted of all charges on October 12, 1991. Castle and Lowry have not been been apprehended and remain fugitives. Morton rendered substantial assistance to the United States in the preparation and prosecution of the case against Blondek and Tull. [...] Morton also appeared as a witness for the Crown in criminal proceedings in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, against Castle and Lowry. The United States is informed that Morton was of substantial assistance in that case. In the Canadian case, Castle was acquitted of all charges, while Lowry was convicted of all charges. Lowery has been sentenced to approximately 16 months incarceration.”
Morton was sentenced to three years probation.
According to docket entries, in April 1996, the DOJ moved to dismiss the charges against Castle and Lowry.
Other than a single sentence in the above mentioned DOJ motion for a downward departure in the Morton case, I was unable to find any public reporting or reference to the Blondek and Tull trial in which they were acquitted of all charges. There is no reference to the trial on the DOJ’s FCPA website and efforts to learn more about the trial from former DOJ enforcement attorneys or those representing Eagle Bus were either not fruitful or unsuccessful.
FCPA trials are rare. Thus if anyone has any information about the Blondek and Tull trial, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One final note about the “buses for bribery” enforcement action. In an original source media article, George McLeod, the provincial cabinet minister responsible for STC, said “he has seen no information that Saskatchewan paid an inflated price for the luxury buses.” He is quoted as follows. ”I don’t think the product is on trial. As far as I’m aware, we received an excellent product for the price.”