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May 29, 2019Washington, DC, United StatesFinancial Crimes

Florida business executive pleads guilty in Houston federal court to foreign bribery charges in connection with Venezuelan scheme

WASHINGTON — A dual U.S.-Venezuelan citizen, who controlled multiple U.S.-based companies, pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court in Houston, Texas, for his role in a bribery scheme to corruptly secure and retain energy and logistics contracts from Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), and its Houston-based subsidiary Citgo Petroleum Corporation (Citgo).   

This guilty plea was announced by the following agency heads: Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas, and Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Houston. 

This ongoing investigation is being conducted by HSI Houston with assistance from HSI Boston and HSI Miami.  

Jose Manuel Gonzalez Testino, 49, of Miami, Florida, pleaded guilty May 29 to one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), one count of violating FCPA, and one count of failing to report foreign bank accounts.  His sentencing is set for Aug. 28. 

Gonzalez Testino was arrested July 31, 2018, at Miami International Airport.  

Gonzalez Testino controlled a number of U.S. and international companies that provided goods and services to PDVSA.  According to admissions he made in connection with his guilty plea, beginning in or around 2012 and continuing through at least 2018, Gonzalez Testino conspired with others to bribe PDVSA officials.  Gonzalez Testino admitted that beginning in November 2012 and continuing until at least June 2013, he and a co-conspirator paid at least $629,000 in bribes to Cesar Rincon David Godoy, the former general manager of Bariven, PDVSA’s procurement subsidiary.  Gonzalez Testino also admitted he and his co-conspirators paid bribes to Alfonso Eliezer Gravina Munoz during the time Gravina was a PDVSA official at Houston-based PDVSA Services Inc.  In exchange for these bribes, Rincon and Gravina provided Gonzalez Testino with inside information concerning PDVSA procurement processes and took steps to direct PDVSA contracts to Gonzalez Testino’s companies, and gave Gonzalez Testino’s companies other business advantages.  Gonzalez Testino admitted these advantages included obtaining priority over other vendors to receive payments.

Gonzalez Testino also admitted to making bribe payments to several PDVSA officials who were based in Houston and employed by Citgo.  Though Citgo acted primarily as a refiner, transporter and marketer of petroleum-based products, it also procured goods and services on behalf of PDVSA through its Special Projects group.  Gonzalez Testino admitted that he and his co-conspirators paid at least four Citgo officials in the Special Projects group, and they provided gifts and other items of value to a senior Citgo executive.  In exchange, Gonzalez Testino admitted that Citgo officials assisted his companies to obtain contracts for new business, provided inside information concerning the PDVSA bidding process, helped conceal the fact that Gonzalez Testino controlled multiple companies on certain bidding panels for PDVSA projects, and assisted Gonzalez Testino in receiving payment priority for outstanding PDVSA invoices.  Gonzalez Testino also admitted he had a financial interest or signatory authority over multiple foreign bank accounts, and he failed to file a foreign bank account report, or “FBAR,” in 2017.   

Gonzalez Testino becomes the latest individual to plead guilty as part of a larger, ongoing U.S. government investigation into bribery at PDVSA.  Including Gonzalez Testino, DOJ has announced charges against 21 individuals, 16 of whom have entered guilty pleas in connection with this investigation.  Charges against the other five defendants remain outstanding.  All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Trial Attorneys Sarah E. Edwards and Sonali D. Patel of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys John P. Pearson and Robert S. Johnson, are prosecuting this case.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristine Rollinson is handling the forfeiture aspects of this case.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida and the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs also provided assistance.