The first Africa Sting trial (as to defendants Andrew Bigelow, Pankesh Patel, John Benson Weir, and Lee Allen Tolleson) ended in July with dismissal of certain charges and Judge Richard Leon declaring a mistrial as to the remaining charges (see here for the prior post). The second (of four) trials in this manufactured case began earlier this week in Judge Leon’s courtroom in Washington, DC. The defendants in this trial are John Mushriqui, Jeana Mushriqui, Patrick Caldwell, Stephen Giordanella, John Godsey, and Mark Morales.
This post contains excerpts from the opening statements of the DOJ and defense counsel.
Laura Perkins delivered the opening argument on behalf of the DOJ.
“This is a case about international bribery and the savvy business people who seek to profit from it. Normally, corrupt deals are struck in secret. The money if funneled quietly, and sham paperwork covers the illegal nature of the deal. The result is that most corrupt deals are never discovered by law enforcement. But this time, someone was watching, listening and recording the bribe payers: The FBI. The evidence will show that in May 2009 these defendants agreed to be part of a $15 million business deal involving the sale of weapons and other military products to a small country in Africa called Gabon. But unlike an honest business deal, the defendants didn’t get this business by offering the lowest prices or the best products. Instead, they got this business, they got this deal by agreeing to pay a bribe. Specifically, to get the pay-to-play business deal, the defendants and the other suppliers agreed to pay money amounting to $1.5 million to Ali Bongo, the Minister of Defense of Gabon. Ali Bongo was the head of Gabon’s military, and most importantly, he was the person who would choose which companies would get the contracts. So where was the $1.5 million for AliBongo going to come from? The defendants weren’t going to take it out of their own pockets. Instead, they were going to take it from the people of Gabon and put it in the bank account of the minister. To do that, the defendants and their partners agreed to add $3 million to the price tag for the weapons and the military products they were selling. And if you will look at the screen,we have a chart that shows how this deal worked. It worked like this. As you see — you can see Gabon in the lower right-hand corner of this chart. Gabon would pay the suppliers $15 million, but it was $15 million for only $12 million worth of weapons and products. The defendants and their partners would send the extra $3 million to Pascal LaTour, a middle man. Pascal LaTour would then funnel half of that, $1.5 million, right back to Ali Bongo for his own personal use. And what would the people of Gabon get in return for paying this extra $3 million? Nothing. They would get ripped off. To understand how serious this is, it may help to think of it this way, ladies and gentlemen. This is just like a foreign company overcharging the United States Government $3 million for a product — let’s say bulletproof vests — and then taking $1.5 million of that $3 million and giving it to the Secretary of Defense for his own personal use. In short, ladies and gentlemen, the evidence will show, plain and simple, that this deal was corrupt, that these defendants knew it, and that they chose to participate in it anyway. Ladies and gentlemen, it may be an obvious point, but bribery, whether it happens here or overseas, prevents legitimate American businesses from competing on a level playing field. It allows Government officials to get rich at the expense of the people they are supposed to be serving. So it’s a crime to pay a foreign official to get business, just as it is a crime to pay a U.S. official. We want American people and American businesses to export goods, not corruption. And to that end, there is a law called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA, which makes it illegal to pay foreign officials to get business. Bribery schemes, like the one you will see during this trial, are often hatched behind closed doors in places like hotel rooms, restaurants, or conference rooms. Unlike robbing a bank or holding someone up, this form of cheating and stealing happens secretly, without force, without threats, and not at gunpoint. White collar criminals are careful and they are discrete. So the same crime fighting techniques that are used in organized crime cases and drug rings are used and must be used in white collar cases as well. And those techniques were used here. So while these businessmen and women thought they were committing their crimes secretly, they were wrong. The FBI was watching, and they were listening. We expect that the defendants will try to portray themselves as victims, victims of an FBI undercover operation, not as the eager, knowing participants that the evidence will prove them to be. But as you will see, the defendants were not victims of anything other than their own greed. The defendants may not like that the FBI uses undercover agents and sting operations in white collar investigations, but the law plays no favorites, not for corporate executives or anyone else.”
Later in her opening statement, Perkins stated as follows. “[T]he Gabon deal, it wasn’t real. It was an FBI-controlled deal that was used to determine who in the industry would agree to participate in a corrupt deal when given the opportunity to do so.”
As to Ricard Bistrong (the individual who pleaded guilty to separate FCPA offenses and agreed to act as the FBI’s cooperating witness and help orchestrate the sting – see here for the prior post), Perkins stated as follows. “During this trial, you will likely hear Mr. Bistrong called many names by defense counsel. He was, after all, a corrupt businessman, committing the same types of crimes with which these defendants are now charged. He has paid bribes, engaged in corrupt conduct, and has done all of the things you would expect a corrupt businessman to do. He lied, he cheated and he stole. You will also hear that Mr. Bistrong led a reckless personal life. Ladies and gentlemen, we make no excuses for Mr. Bistrong’s actions prior to becoming involved with the FBI, and we don’t apologize for using him as a cooperator in this case. Think about it. If the FBI is going to undercover well-hidden international corruption schemes, the best way and often the only way to gain access to this private corrupt world is to use a criminal, an insider, use someone like Mr. Bistrong, even with all of his history and all of his baggage. But because of that baggage, ladies and gentlemen, the FBI agents in this case did what good agents do when working with any cooperator – trust, but verify. Once Mr. Bistrong started working with the FBI, you will hear that the plan was for him to reinsert himself into the industry, pretend, obviously, that he hadn’t been caught, and to have him propose a corrupt deal that looked and sounded like the corrupt deals he had been a part of. With the FBI monitoring, he would propose this corrupt deal to some of his prior industry contacts.”
David Krakoff (Buckley Sander – here) argued on behalf of John Mushriqui.
“When the Government launched the phony Gabon deal, they must have thought they were going to bring home a bunch of Oscar for the best sting ever, best picture, best screenplay, best leading actor. They billed it as the first sting ever involving payments to foreign officials. They put huge resources into this, ladies and gentlemen: Time, manpower and, of course, money. It was so big they had to go all the way to the top levels of management of the FBI to get approval. And you know what? They were really confident of success because they had the perfect actor for the role of con man: Richard Bistrong, a veteran of the military products industry, an insider who his handler, Agent Forvour, told the top brass at the FBI is highly personable, educated, highly intelligent, one of the most respected people in the industry. He has been around this industry for 20 years. In short, an immensely successful salesman, which is exactly what they needed to pull off the phony Gabon deal. It turns out that the FBI’s choice for the con man role was no actor at all. He was a con man in real life. And you know what is the most essential quality for a con man? Dishonesty. What did Mr. Bistrong do? Of course, he cut his losses. He was looking at potentially decades in jail. He became a cooperator with the FBI. The FBI had its leading man. Highly motivated and highly self-interested. He must have figured, ladies and gentlemen, that the more people I get into this phony Gabon deal, the less time I do in jail. But you know what? The FBI needed Bistrong as much as he needed the FBI. So the evidence will show they laundered Mr. Bistrong so people would think he was still a major player in the industry. They gave him a front company, The Bistrong Group. They falsified State Department and Commerce Department documents for him. They even paid him 5,000 bucks a month for a while. And more than that, they let him keep — Ms. Perkins said a lot of money. You bet a lot of money: Over $1.2 million they let him keep from the proceeds of his undercover — phony undercover operation. There was a lot of money in being a cooperator for Richard Bistrong. This is the man who the Government says you must trust in this case. This is who is they say you must believe. Ladies and gentlemen, the case against John Mushriqui is all about the Government’s actor, Richard Bistrong. The FBI was convinced Bistrong could pull off the record the Government had scripted for him that he pretend to be a middleman in a deal with Gabon where there would be a sale of vests to Gabon and there would be a split of a commission with the Minister of Defense.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, here is what happened with John Mushriqui. He was not the pushover that they wanted him to be. These qualities were a real problem for an phoney undercover operation and its leading man. It meant that he questioned the terms of the deal because they didn’t make sense. It meant he became very suspicious. It meant he pushed back on Bistrong. It meant that when Bistrong offered him a lowball price, he said, I am not taking that. It meant that he ignored Bistrong. It meant that he didn’t answer his calls until — and frustrating Bistrong over and over and over again until Mr. Bistrong dropped his guard. He slipped up. And the truth came out — and you will hear it on the tapes in this courtroom. When Bistrong slipped up, dropped his guard and said, you know what? The commission is mine. It’s my commission. No Minister of Defense. It’s my commission. Ladies and gentlemen, throughout this trial, we will present the full story of what Richard Bistrong communicated to John Mushriqui. And we will show you how John Mushriqui figured out there was no Gabon and there were no payments to the Minister of Defense. He is not guilty.”
Charles Leeper (Drinker Biddle & Reath – here) argued on behalf of his client Jeana Mushriqui.
“It is sad, but true: Even today, in the 21st century, when the playing field in the workplace is supposed to be a level one, it’s still the sad truth that many men, rich and successful at the top of the business world underestimate and disrespect the newcomers who are trying to work their way up. You may have seen it on your job in your own experience. It may have happened to you. The evidence in this case will show that Richard Bistrong is one of those kinds of men. He seriously underestimated Jeana Mushriqui, and so did the FBI agent playing the role of Pascal LaTour. Bistrong and LaTour thought they could tell a string of lies about their Gabon story to Jeana and that she would be duped by those lies. Bistrong and LaTour thought that they could tell their Gabon story to Jeana without having to do their homework and without having to worry about telling their lies the same way every time they told them. But as you will hear and see, Bistrong and LaTour could not keep their lies straight. And Jeana Mushriqui heard that, she saw that, and she figured out that this Gabon story was a fake, and the real customer in this case was not the Government of Gabon. Instead, from where Jeana sat, it looked like Bistrong was trying to buy the Mushriquis’ vests at a lowball price and mark up that price and resell it to a customer here in the United States.”
“So the Government’s own evidence will show you that this so-called conspiracy didn’t exist as far as Jeana Mushriqui was concerned.”
Eric Dubelier (Reed Smith – here) argued on behalf of his client Patrick Caldwell.
“If it is not already abundantly clear to you, it may not have been in the beginning of the Government’s opening statement, but it certainly became clear when the two defense counsel got up and started talking, this whole thing is fake, right? Mr. Mahmadou is fake. Mr. Miller is fake. Mr. Latour is fake. These are all FBI agents. There is no sale to the Government of Gabon. It is fake. Mr. Ali Bongo, I will assure you, that there will be no evidence that anybody checked with him to see if it was okay to use his name and claim that he was going to take a bribe in connection with this deal. It’s all made up.”
“This case doesn’t involve the real Government of Gabon. It doesn’t involve anybody living in Gabon. It doesn’t involve any people who live in Gabon, regardless of what the prosecutor told you. It is all fake.”
“Now, this case is about proving what is in people’s minds, because it’s fake. There is no real crime. So they can’t prove a real crime happened because there is no real crime. So they have to prove what’s in people’s minds. They have to try and prove that Mr. Caldwell and the others believed there was a crime occurring, because that’s the only crime. That would be the only conceivable crime here, their belief that a crime was occurring. So they have to prove to you what these people had in their minds, both my client and all other five Defendants sitting here, what they had in their minds. What is the most obvious way you would use to prove what somebody had in their mind? What they said. You’re going to hear tapes where my client says nothing, he never opens his mouth. The whole discussion about this is the undercover agents and Bistrong talking about committing a crime. My client never opens his mouth and says anything. So you’re going to have to judge, at the end of this six or eight weeks or however long it takes, what my client had in his mind a year and a half ago or two years ago when these events occurred, even though on these tapes he doesn’t say anything that’s going to help you determine that.”
“Conspiracy? Pat Caldwell does not know Jeana Mushriqui, John Mushriqui, Greg Godsey, barely Steve Giordanella — and we’ll talk about that — or Marc Morales. He doesn’t know these people, never met them, never had anything to do with them, and didn’t have anything to do with any of the other people they have charged in this conspiracy.”
“This is a man who spent his entire professional career working for the United States Secret Service, where his primary responsibility was providing security every single day for the president of the United States, the vice president of the United States, and visiting heads of state. That was his job.”
“Now, you are going to hear testimony about Bistrong — I’m not going to spend a lot of time with it — but they allowed him to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars. They allowed him to sign a contract with PPI [Caldwell's employer], and then they claimed, well, we’ll have the illegal deal with PPI, and then you can have legal business with PPI and you can earn money off of that contract. That’s crazy. That’s crazy. How can you have a man setting up a sting to sting business people, and then, oh, but you can have legitimate business with that company too, and you can make money off them and we’ll let you keep it? They let him keep the money. This is a man who has committed crimes all over the world, he’s cooperating with the FBI, he’s earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and they let him keep the money.”
Paul Calli (Carlon Fields – here) argued on behalf of his client Stephen Giordanella.
“Steve Giordanella is not guilty. As Judge Leon informed you, Mr. Giordanella is accused of only one count in this case, and that is allegedly being a member of one big conspiracy charged in this indictment, with 21 other people named therein. Mr. Giordanella is not accused of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Mr. Giordanella’s lack of involvement is a lack of evidence, and it is a lack of proof against him. Mr. Giordanella never knowingly or willfully joined this big conspiracy that the Government is going to attempt to prove existed for the next eight weeks. He never offered, he never promised, he never authorized the payment of money to a foreign official. In fact, Mr. Giordanella did not have the authority to offer, to promise, or to authorize any payments whatsoever from his former employer, Protective Products.”
“Mr. Giordanella never knowingly joined in the big conspiracy the Government charged him with. Steve Giordanella never had any meetings, never had any discussions, and never had any communications with 20 of the other 21 people supposedly in this big conspiracy he’s charged with.”
“I’m going to take one minute, because I must, and talk about Mr. Bistrong. Mr. McCool and Mr. Madigan will go into more detail. The man — and I use that term generously — is a master of lying, cheating and deception. He is a career criminal. He is a con artist of the highest order. He uses women. He uses everyone he comes into contact with for one reason: To advance his own self-interest. Chris Forvour will tell you a laundry list of Bistrong’s crimes. Bistrong frequents prostitutes. He transports illegal narcotics across state and international borders for his personal use. He transports his personal cash across international borders without reporting it. He parks his money offshore. And Bistrong commits the crime of structuring his cash deposits so he doesn’t have to fill out the form like law-abiding citizens do that shows if you’re depositing a lot of money at one time. And this is the person that Chris Forvour partnered up with. You’ll hear that Bistrong became almost like best friends forever with the FBI agent sitting at my elbow. Oh, sure. They exchanged gifts. They smoked cigars together. Trust and verify? From what I can see from the evidence, the only thing Chris Forvour verified was that the fancy Padron cigars Bistrong gave him were not fake and counterfeit. Bistrong posed for happy pictures with the FBI. I mean, this is a guy who should be in prison, folks. Not only is he not in prison, but they’re paying him. Not only are they paying him, but he’s getting earned money anyway. Big smiles, peace signs with the FBI agents. Bistrong and the FBI gave each other nicknames that they thought were real cool. Bistrong was Flash Bang because of his ability to disorient people. And he was called Tom Brady, the quarterback. Mr. Forvour was El Chupacabra, the mythical half man, half beast that stalks the island of Puerto Rico terrorizing the citizens. And he was also Coach Bill Belichick. They think they’re on the same team. They talked about it all the time. You’ll hear that.”
Michael Madigan (Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe – here) argued on behalf of his client John Godsey.
“[The FBI} had one goal in mind, and that goal was to make a splashy FCPA case, and to get it on the front page of the New York Times. And that’s not Mike Madigan, the lawyer, talking. You’re going to see a document written by Agent Forvour saying that was his goal from the beginning.”
“And not only, not only do they allow Mr. Bistrong to skate, but they make him a millionaire, a millionaire. For the two years that he operates undercover, it has to be some kind of record, he is paid — he makes $1.2 million into his pocket courtesy of our government.”
Steven McCool (Mallon & McCool – here) argued on behalf of his client Mark Morales.
“You can listen to each and every one of the tapes that they introduce into evidence, every single one, from beginning to end, and no one said that that man, Marc Morales, or that man, Greg Godsey, that in order to secure this deal you got to pay the minister. It didn’t happen. It’s fiction, ladies and gentlemen. This was pitched as a done deal. It was pitched as a done deal with no conditions. That man was entitled to clear terms. You are entitled to clear terms. Their rules require that when you engage in this sort of undercover activity — set aside the ethics of sting operations. They’re legal, that’s fine. But their rules say when you do it, you have to make the supposed illegality of this activity clear to the subject of that investigation. Those are rules issued by the director of the FBI, by the Attorney General of the United States. The rules also say that you have to do it fairly, ladies and gentlemen. Fairly.”
“If the FBI is going to sting someone, all right, by secretly recording their meetings and telephone calls, in an effort to convict that person for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, do it fairly, don’t scam them. Right? They could have pitched that deal to Marc, right, when he was not in turmoil and under the influence of alcohol. They chose not to. They could have pitched that deal in clear terms and say this thing is supposed to be illegal. They could have said, like I said before, we got this dirty official, we pay him off, he’s all ours. They chose not to do it. They pitched it as a done deal, like I said in the beginning, ladies and gentlemen. They pitched it as a done deal with no strings attached.”