Frederic Bourke’s attempt to overturn his conviction and obtain a new trial has failed. He was found guilty in July of conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act under 18 U.S.C. § 371 and making false statements in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. He faces up to five years in prison for each count. Sentencing is now scheduled for November 10 (see our post here).
In his motion for acquittal or a new trial, Bourke argued, among other things, that the jury instructions were wrong in a number of ways, including the mens rea element, the local law defense, a good-faith defense, and his possible conviction based on negligent acts.
During his trial, prosecutors said Bourke had “stuck his head in the sand.” The jury thought so too. As the foreman said after the verdict: “It was Kozeny, it was Azerbaijan, it was a foreign country. We thought [Bourke] knew [about the bribery] and definitely could have known. He’s an investor. It’s his job to know.”
In his post-trial motion, Bourke argued that Judge Shira Scheindlin made a mistake by allowing the jury to convict him of conspiracy if all he did was stick his head in the sand. She issued an instruction on the theory of conscious avoidance even though the government’s evidence of his actual knowledge was thin, Bourke said. That created a strong possibility the jury was mislead into believing it could convict him simply because he had “not tried hard enough to learn the truth.”
But Judge Scheindlin said her instruction was correct. In fact the jury could convict him if he stuck his head in the sand to avoid knowing facts he should have known. The test was not Bourke’s actual knowledge of Kozeny’s bribes, but his efforts to avoid acquiring that actual knowledge. “The conscious avoidance doctrine provides that a defendant’s knowledge of a fact required to prove the defendant’s guilt may be found when the jury is persuaded that the defendant consciously avoided learning that fact while aware of high probability of its existence,” she said, quoting United States v. Svoboda, 347 F.3d 471, 477 (2d Cir. 2003).
She explained further why there’s no head-in-the-sand defense under the FCPA’s antibribery provisions, or a conspiracy charge based on that part of the FCPA:
“In addition, the FCPA explicitly permits a finding of knowledge on a conscious avoidance theory. It provides that ‘[w]hen knowledge of the existence of a particular circumstance is required for an offense, such knowledge is established if a person is aware of a high probability of the existence of such circumstance, unless the person actually believes that such circumstance does not exist.’ 15 U.S.C. § 78dd-2(h)(3)(B). Because the defendant must be found to possess the same intent as that required for the substantive offense, the conscious avoidance instruction was particularly appropriate in this case.”
Bourke’s lawyers plan to appeal his conviction.
Download a copy of Judge Shira A. Scheindlin’s October 13, 2009 opinion and order in U.S. v. Victor Kozeny and Frederic Bourke, Jr. (United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Case No.: 05-Cr 518) here.
Download the complete jury charge in U.S. v. Victor Kozeny and Frederic Bourke, Jr. here.
Read all our posts about the prosecution of Frederic Bourke here.