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FBI arrests 21 in Las Vegas in foreign bribery case

Updated Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010 | 12:39 p.m.

The FBI arrested 21 people Monday in Las Vegas in what is being described as the largest single investigation and prosecution against individuals in the history of the Justice Department's enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Those individuals and another person arrested in Miami are executives and employees of military and law enforcement products companies who were indicted for engaging in schemes to bribe foreign government officials to obtain and retain business, the Justice Department announced today.

In connection with the FBI's undercover operation, 16 indictments were unsealed today. The indictments were returned on Dec. 11 by a grand jury in Washington.

All 21 of the individuals arrested in Las Vegas had been attending the 2010 Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show and Conference, which runs from today through Friday at the Sands Expo & Convention Center. All were arrested off-site at an undisclosed location in the city, federal authorities said at a press conference held in Washington.

"It just happened that we had the opportunity to bring them all together at one time at one place," Kevin Perkins, assistant director of the FBI's criminal division said.

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer of ther Justice Department's Criminal Division said that while Las Vegas is a convention center city, the fact that all the individuals converged on Las Vegas is not a negative reflection of the city. He simply chalked it up to a locale that hosts conventions for a variety of industries.

"As one person said in my office, this is one case where what happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas," Breuer said.

The investigation involved roughly 150 FBI agents who executed search warrants throughout the country. London police also assisted in the investigation.

"The fight to erase foreign bribery from the corporate playbook will not be won overnight, but these actions are a turning point," Breuer said.

U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips, who represents the District of Columbia, added: "Corrupt payments to foreign officials to obtain or retain business erode public confidence in our free market system and threaten to undermine foreign governments."

The indictments allege that the defendants engaged in a scheme to pay bribes to the minister of defense for a country in Africa. The scheme was part of the undercover operation, with no actual involvement from any minister of defense.

As part of the undercover operation, the defendants allegedly agreed to pay a 20 percent commission to a sales agent who the defendants believed represented the minister of defense in order to win a portion of a $15 million deal to outfit the country's presidential guard.

In reality, the sales agent was an undercover FBI agent.

Those who were indicted and the location of their companies included Daniel Alvirez and Lee Allen Tolleson, Bull Shoals, Ark., Helmie Ashiblie, Woodbridge, Va., Andrew Bigelow, Sarasota, Fla., R. Patrick Caldwell and Stephen Gerard Giordanella, Sunrise, Fla., Yochanan Cohen, San Francisco, Haim Geri, North Miami Beach, Fla., Amaro Goncalves, Springfield, Mass., John Gregory Godsey and Mark Frederick Morales, Decatur, Ga., Saul Mishkin, Aventura, Fla., John and Jeana Mushriqui, Upper Darby, Pa., David Painter and Lee Wares, United Kingdom, Pankesh Patel, United Kingdom, Ofer Paz, Israel, Israel Weisler and Michael Sachs, Stearns, Ky., and John Benson Wier III, St. Petersburg, Fla.

The maximum prison sentence for the conspiracy count and for each FCPA count is five years. The maximum sentence for the money laundering conspiracy charge is 20 years in prison.

These cases are being prosecuted by Assistant Chief Hank Bond Walther and Trial Attorney Laura N. Perkins of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, and Matthew C. Solomon of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. The cases were investigated by the FBI Washington Field Office squad that specializes in investigations into FCPA violations.

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