In January 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the indictment of 22 defendants on charges of engaging in schemes to pay bribes to an official of the African country of Gabon so they could be part of a $15 million sale of military weapons and security equipment.
At the time, the Justice Department said the case was the largest U.S. prosecution of individuals accused of foreign bribery. All but one of the defendants were arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada on January 18, 2010, as they attended the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show (SHOT), a huge trade show for the weapons, law enforcement and military equipment industries.
All 22 defendants were charged with conspiracy and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The indictment charged that the defendants agreed to pay bribes to the Minister of Defense of Gabon, but in fact the man who said he was representing the Minister of Defense was an undercover operative working for the federal government.
The indictment charged that the defendants agreed to pay a 20 percent “commission” to the operative, who was identified as Richard Bistrong, a former executive of a military hardware company who had been caught bribing officials of the United Nations and the Netherlands to get contracts for body armor and pepper spray. Bistrong had agreed to plead guilty to the other charges and cooperate with authorities in the Gabon sting.
Three of the defendants, Daniel Alvirez, Haim Geri
and Jonathan Spiller
, pled guilty in March and April of 2011 to conspiracy charges and agreed to cooperate with the prosecution in the cases against their co-defendants. Alvirez was president of an Arkansas company that sold law enforcement and military equipment. Geri was president of a Florida company that acted as a sales agent for companies in the military and law enforcement product industry. Spiller was president of a Florida company that similarly sold law enforcement and military equipment.
The remaining 19 defendants chose to go to trial. The first trial, involving four defendants, ended in a hung jury in July 2011. A second trial in January 2012 ended with the acquittal of two defendants and hung jury for three other defendants.
In both trials, defense attorneys attacked Bistrong, the undercover operative, as a cocaine addict and tax cheat who had stolen millions of dollars from a prior employer. The defense presented evidence—some of it included in documents that had been turned over by the prosecution prior to trial—that suggested that in fact there was no massive conspiracy linking the defendants to an attempt to bribe an official of Gabon. Instead, Bistrong had repeatedly assured the defendants that the deals had been approved by the U.S. State Department. Moreover, the defense undermined Bistrong’s credibility by digging up evidence that Bistrong consorted with prostitutes, used drugs, and fancied hard core pornography.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon granted motions by defense attorneys in both trials to dismiss the conspiracy charges, ruling that the government failed to present sufficient evidence that a criminal conspiracy had existed.
In March 2012, the Department of Justice dismissed the charges against the 17 defendants who were either awaiting trial or retrial due to the hung juries.
After the charges against all other remaining defendants were dismissed, defense attorneys for Alvirez, Geri and Spiller notified Department of Justice lawyers that they intended to use the evidence developed in the cases that went to trial as the basis for motions to vacate their guilty pleas. In response, the Department of Justice filed motions to vacate their pleas.
On March 27, 2012, Judge Leon granted the motions to vacate the guilty pleas and the prosecution dismissed the charges against the three defendants.
– Maurice Possley