In Washington on Wednesday, 19 of the 22 defendants named in the FCPA mega-bust pleaded not guilty. The remaining three defendants are in custody and expected to appear in court soon. Here’s a report from Reuters.
The defendants face charges of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and conspiracy to violate the FCPA and launder money.
During the hearing, the government said the defendants were part of a single conspiracy to win arms contracts by bribing someone they thought was the defense minister of an African country.
The single-conspiracy theory should streamline the government’s case. Prosecutors can argue to the judge that all the defendants should be tried together (even if he doesn’t agree, there aren’t likely to be 22 separate trials). Then the government can tell the jury one story and cast each defendant in a role in that story. And when some defendants cop pleas and cooperate with the government — which will happen — their evidence will be relevant to all other alleged co-conspirators.
As we said right after news of the mega-bust broke, the DOJ’s stage management was stunning. It rounded up all but one defendant on the same day at the Las Vegas Shot Show. Now we learn that before the arrests, the Justice Department had stitched the defendants together in an alleged grand conspiracy. That probably couldn’t have happened without lots of help from the DOJ’s inside man, known in the mega-bust indictments as “Individual 1″ and identified since then as Richard T. Bistrong. He was charged last month in a separate case with conspiracy to violate the FCPA.
But will the single-conspiracy approach set up the entrapment defense? Reuters quoted two defense attorneys as saying “they believed their clients barely knew each other beyond perhaps an occasional handshake when their paths happened to cross in the industry.” That suggests some defendants might argue they were a group of strangers recruited into an illegal conspiracy promoted and run entirely by the feds and their mole.
Reuters said the prosecutor’s statement that the defendants were part of a single conspiracy “clearly surprised U.S. District Judge Richard Leon and many of the defense lawyers, who raised questions about consolidating the cases into one.” During the hearing’s afternoon session, the judge “made it clear there were limits to case consolidation. ‘I’m not going to try a case, no judge can try a case with 22 defendants,’ Leon said.”