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December 10, 2018Houston, TX, United StatesFinancial Crimes

Texas businessman pleads guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice in connection with Venezuela bribery scheme

HOUSTON – A former procurement officer of Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), pleaded guilty Monday for his role in a scheme to obstruct an investigation relating to bribes paid by the owner of U.S.-based companies to Venezuelan government officials in exchange for securing additional business with PDVSA and payment priority on outstanding invoices.

Alfonso Eliezer Gravina Munoz, 56, of Katy, Texas – who previously worked for PDVSA in Houston – pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. Gravina is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 19, 2019. 

U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick, Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Houston made the announcement.

HSI Houston is conducting the ongoing investigation with assistance from HSI Boston and HSI Madrid, as well as the IRS - Criminal Investigation Division. Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSAs) John P. Pearson and Robert S. Johnson of the Southern District of Texas are prosecuting the case along with Trial Attorneys Sarah E. Edwards and Sonali D. Patel of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. AUSA Kristine Rollinson is handling the forfeiture aspects of the case.

Gravina pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to launder money and one count of making false statements on his federal income tax return. Gravina’s plea agreement in that case was a cooperation plea agreement which contemplated the possibility the United States would make a motion to reduce his sentence based on his cooperation. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Gravina agreed to participate in interviews as requested by the United States and to provide “truthful, complete and accurate information” to government agents and attorneys.  

According to admissions made in connection with Gravina’s plea in this case, Gravina met periodically with HSI special agents to provide information regarding corruption at PDVSA. Gravina knew U.S. government authorities were investigating corruption at PDVSA and that at the beginning of 2018, the government was focusing on bribes paid by companies controlled by an individual referred to as co-conspirator 1. However, Gravina concealed facts about co-conspirator 1’s bribe payments to PDVSA officials in his interviews with the government. In addition, Gravina informed co-conspirator 1 that U.S. government authorities were investigating co-conspirator 1 and provided that person with information about the investigation, including the topics discussed in Gravina’s meetings with the government. This passing of information led to co-conspirator 1 and others destroying evidence and co-conspirator 1 attempting to flee the country in July 2018.

Gravina becomes the latest individual to plead guilty as part of a larger, ongoing investigation by the U.S. government into bribery at PDVSA. Including Gravina, the Justice Department has announced the guilty pleas of a total of 15 individuals in connection with the investigation.

Updated: 12/11/2018