By Samuel Rubenfeld
Two former executives of Terra Telecommunications Corp. were convicted by a federal jury for their roles in a scheme to bribe officials at the Haiti state-owned telecoms company.
Joel Esquenazi and Carlos Rodriguez, the president and executive vice president of the Miami-based firm, which had several contracts with the state-owned company, known as Haiti Teleco, authorized more than $890,000 in payments between November 2001 and March 2005 to shell companies to be used for bribes for officials at Haiti Teleco, according to evidence presented during the trial. The purpose of the bribes, prosecutors said, was to gain business advantages.
“These individuals conspired and made corrupt payments to foreign government officials for the purpose of securing business advantages for their company,” said Wifredo A. Ferrer, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, in a statement.
To conceal the bribes, the defendants used shell companies to forward and receive the money. They created false records to cover up the payments, calling them “consulting services,” which were never performed or even intended to be.
They were convicted of one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and wire fraud, seven counts of FCPA violations, one count of money laundering conspiracy and 12 counts of money laundering. The jury deliberated for five hours following the two-and-a-half week trial.
“In finding the defendants guilty on all charged counts, the jury sent an unmistakable message that paying off foreign officials does not, in fact, pay off,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer in the statement.
Sentencing for both Esquenazi and Rodriguez is scheduled for Oct. 13. Esquenazi was remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals, while Rodriguez is free on bond.
Their attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Several other defendants in the case, including Terra’s controller and the director of international affairs for Haiti Teleco, have pleaded guilty, and they are all in prison serving sentences of various lengths.