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June 16, 2016Houston, TX, United StatesFinancial Crimes

Houston businessman pleads guilty to foreign bribery and tax charges in connection with Venezuelan bribery scheme

HOUSTON — The owner of multiple U.S.-based energy companies pleaded guilty Thursday to foreign bribery and tax charges for his role in a scheme to corruptly secure energy contracts from Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA).

U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced this guilty plea along with Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting Special Agent in Charge Sean McElroy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Houston, and Special Agent in Charge Richard Goss of Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI).

Roberto Enrique Rincon Fernandez (Rincon), 55, of The Woodlands, Texas, pleaded guilty June 16 to information charging him with one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), one count of violating the FCPA, and one count of making false statements on his 2010 federal income tax return. U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller accepted Rincon’s plea and imposed a personal money judgment against him, who agreed to the forfeiture. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 30.

Rincon was arrested Dec. 16, 2015, after a grand jury returned an 18-count indictment against him and Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas (Shiera), 53, of Coral Gables, Florida.

According to admissions made in connection with Rincon’s plea, Rincon and Shiera worked together to submit bids to provide equipment and services to PDVSA through their various companies. Rincon admitted that beginning in 2009, he and Shiera agreed to pay bribes and provide other things of value to PDVSA purchasing analysts to ensure that his and Shiera’s companies were placed on PDVSA bidding panels, which enabled the companies to win lucrative energy contracts with PDVSA.

Rincon also admitted to making bribe payments to other PDVSA officials in order to ensure that his companies were placed on PDVSA-approved vendor lists and given payment priority so that they would get paid ahead of other PDVSA vendors with outstanding invoices. In his plea agreement, Rincon admitted he willfully failed to report on his 2010 federal tax return more than $6 million in foreign dividend income he received from a Venezuelan corporation he owned.

Rincon is the sixth individual to plead guilty as part of a larger, ongoing investigation by the U.S. government into bribery at PDVSA. Shiera previously pleaded guilty before Judge Miller to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and commit wire fraud, and one count of violating the FCPA.  He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 30. In March 2016, Judge Miller also unsealed charges against four other individuals charged in connection with this ongoing investigation, including three foreign officials. The foreign officials admitted that while employed by PDVSA or its wholly owned subsidiaries or affiliates, they accepted bribes from Rincon and Shiera in exchange for taking certain actions to assist companies owned by Rincon and Shiera in winning energy contracts with PDVSA. The foreign officials also conspired with Rincon and Shiera to launder the proceeds of the bribery scheme. As part of their plea agreements, Rincon, Shiera and the other defendants all agreed to forfeit proceeds from their criminal activity.

HSI and IRS-CI are conducting this ongoing investigation with assistance from the FBI. Deputy Chief John Pearson and Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert S. Johnson are prosecuting this case along with Trial Attorneys Aisling O’Shea and Jeremy R. Sanders of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kristine Rollinson and Vincent Carroll are handling the forfeiture aspects of this case.

The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs and Swiss Federal Office of Justice also provided assistance.

Updated: 06/16/2016