A defendant in the Africa sting case was acquitted after U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon (left) on Thursday ruled there was insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction.
The judgment acquitting Stephen G. Giordanella of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act came at the close of the government's evidence after a twelve week jury trial in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
A release from Giordanella's law firm said Judge Leon 'granted Giordanella's motion for acquittal under Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, prior to Giordanella having the opportunity to present evidence on his behalf and prior to the case being submitted to a jury.'
Five other defendants also had the conspiracy charge dismissed but still face substantive FCPA counts. They are R. Patrick Caldwell, John Mushriqui, Jeana Mushriqui, John Godsey, and Marc Morales.
As we've said, conspiracy counts are usually easier to prove than substantive FCPA charges. So the judge's ruling is a setback for the DOJ.
Giordanella was one of the twenty two defendants indicted in December 2009 in the largest prosecution of individuals ever under the FCPA.
In February last year, at a preliminary hearing in the case, the judge expressed doubt about the government's conspiracy theory in the case. "I read all 16 indictments," Judge Leon said, "and I didn't see it. I have zero sense that there was an omnibus grand conspiracy."
The defendants' arrests followed a two-and-a-half year undercover "sting" operation by the DOJ and involved about 150 FBI agents. All but one defendant was arrested in Las Vegas during an annual trade show for military and law enforcement equipment companies.
Prosecutors alleged that the defendants tried to bribe the defense minister of Gabon, Africa to win contracts to provide body armor, weapons, and military gear. U.S. government agents posed as officials from Gabon.
The trial of the first four defendants in the case ended in September with a hung jury, forcing the judge to declare a mistrial. The DOJ has said it will retry Pankesh Patel, Andrew Bigelow, John Benson Weir, and Lee Allen Tolleson.
Three defendants in the case have pleaded guilty to FCPA conspiracy or substantive charges. Haim Geri, Daniel Alvirez, and Jonathan Spiller haven't been sentenced yet.