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Prison For Ex-Willbros Execs

FCPA violations: The Justice Department is targeting individuals who pay bribes to foreign officials. Photo by Ken MayerTwo former Willbros managers on Thursday were given jail time for conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. They bribed foreign government officials and employees of state-owned firms to win pipeline work and gain other advantages.

Jim Bob Brown, 48, was sentenced in federal court in Houston to one year and one day in prison and fined $17,500; Jason Edward Steph, 40, was sentenced to 15 months and fined $2,000.

Steph, who once served as general manager of on-shore operations for Willbros International, pleaded guilty in November 2007. He said in his plea that in 2005 he, Brown, and others arranged to pay about $1.8 million in cash to Nigerian officials.

Brown pleaded guilty in September 2006 to conspiracy to violate the FCPA. He and Steph cooperated with the government’s investigation.

Brown said from 1996 to 2004, he and others plotted to negotiate lower Nigerian federal and state taxes in exchange for bribes to revenue officials. And he admitted conspiring to make corrupt payments to officials in the Nigerian court system in exchange for favorable treatment on pending cases. Brown also paid at least $300,000 in bribes to Ecuadorian government officials from PetroEcuador and PetroCommercial in exchange for contracts. The DOJ said all the payments violated the FCPA’s antibribery provisions.

In May 2008, Willbros Group and its subsidiary Willbros International paid $22 million and entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the DOJ to settle criminal FCPA charges in connection with corrupt payments to Nigerian and Ecuadorian officials. Willbros Group also paid $10.3 million (disgorgement of $8.9 million, plus prejudgment interest of $1.4 million) to resolve the SEC’s civil enforcement action.

In December 2008, another former executive and an ex-consultant of Willbros International Inc. were charged in the case. Consultant Paul G. Novak, 43, pleaded guilty in November 2009 to conspiracy to violate the FCPA. He’s scheduled to be sentenced on February 19. James K. Tillery, 49, a former Willbros International executive, was also charged but remains at large.

In May 2008, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Steph and former employees Gerald Jansen, Lloyd Biggers, and Carlos Galvez with aiding and abetting Willbros Group’s violation of the antibribery, books and records, and internal controls provisions of the FCPA, and knowingly circumventing the FCPA’s internal controls and books and records provisions. All four consented to permanent injunctions, with Jansen and Galvez ordered to pay civil penalties of $30,000 and $35,000 respectively. Determination of Steph’s civil penalty was deferred pending his sentencing in the criminal case.

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Substantive FCPA violations and conspiracy to violate the FCPA both carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Here are some recent FCPA-related sentences:

  • In November last year, Frederic Bourke, who was convicted at trial, was sentenced to a year and day in jail for conspiracy.
  • David Kay and Douglas Murphy started serving their sentences last year for substantive FCPA violations. They were convicted at trial and sentenced to 37 months and 63 months respectively.
  • In April 2009, Virginia-based physicist Shu Quan-Sheng was sentenced to 51 months in prison. He pleaded guilty in November 2008 to one count of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and two counts of violating the Arms Export Control Act.
  • In September 2008, two former executives from telecoms company ITXC Corporation avoided prison. Roger Michael Young was sentenced to five years probation with three months home confinement after he pleaded guilty in July 2007 to violating the FCPA and the Travel Act. Steven J. Ott also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years probation with six months in a community confinement center and six months home confinement.
  • Also in September 2008, Albert “Jack” Stanley, KBR’s former CEO, pleaded guilty to a two-count criminal information charging him with conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. He agreed to a seven year jail term with a chance for reduction based on his cooperation. 
  • In  April 2008, a former World Bank employee, Ramendra Basu, received 15 months in prison for conspiring to award World Bank contracts to consultants in exchange for kickbacks and for helping a contractor bribe a foreign official. He pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit wire fraud and to violating the FCPA.

A copy of the DOJ’s January 28, 2010 release is here.

See our prior posts about Willbros and its personnel here.

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1 Comment

  1. I'm glad that the FCPA and SEC are cracking down on people like this. It is about time that we start restoring faith in the economy and companies alike – thanks to helpful people at the SEC and FCPA.

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