NEW YORK, USA -- The chief executive officer and a managing partner of a New York-based US broker-dealer were arrested on Monday on felony charges arising from a conspiracy to pay bribes to a senior official in Venezuela’s state economic development bank.
According to the indictment unsealed on Monday, Benito Chinea, 47, and Joseph DeMeneses, 44, who were the chief executive officer and a managing partner, respectively, of a New York-based broker-dealer (Broker-Dealer), are accused of conspiring with others to pay and launder bribes to Maria de los Angeles Gonzalez de Hernandez, a senior official in Venezuela’s state-owned economic development bank, Banco de Desarollo Económico y Social de Venezuela (BANDES), in exchange for her directing BANDES’s financial trading business to the Broker-Dealer.
DeMeneses was also charged with conspiring to obstruct an examination of the Broker-Dealer by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to conceal the true facts of the Broker-Dealer’s relationship with BANDES.
In a separate action, the SEC announced civil charges against Chinea, DeMeneses and others involved in the bribery scheme.
“These senior Wall Street executives are accused of paying six-figure bribes to an official in Venezuela to secure foreign business for their firm,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General David O’Neil. “Today’s charges show once again that we will aggressively pursue individual executives, all the way up the corporate ladder, when they try to bribe their way ahead of the competition.”
“These two defendants, senior executives at a US brokerage firm, are the fifth and sixth people to be charged in an alleged conspiracy to corrupt the trading business of a state-run economic development bank of Venezuela,” said US Attorney Preet Bharara. “They are alleged to have bribed a willing officer at the bank to steer its overseas trading business to the defendants’ brokerage firm, reaping millions for these defendants and their partners in crime. This Office will not tolerate the kind of outright bribery and concealment that characterized this scheme.”
“As alleged in the indictment, Chinea and DeMeneses bribed Gonzalez to secure BANDES's financial trading business,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge George Venizelos. “DeMeneses compounded the Broker-Dealer’s illegal activities by conspiring to obstruct an investigation by regulators. The arrests today of Chinea and DeMeneses should be a reminder to all those in the business community that engaging in bribery schemes to secure business and make a profit is illegal. Together with our law enforcement partners, the FBI will continue to investigate bribery and fraud at all levels.”
According to the allegations in the indictment unsealed on Monday, as well as other documents previously filed in Manhattan federal court, Chinea and DeMeneses worked at the headquarters of the Broker-Dealer in New York City. In 2008, the Broker-Dealer established a group called the Global Markets Group (GMG), which offered fixed income trading services for institutional clients in the purchase and sale of foreign sovereign debt. One of the Broker-Dealer’s GMG clients was BANDES, which operated under the direction of the Venezuelan Ministry of Finance. Gonzalez was an official at BANDES and oversaw the development bank’s overseas trading activity. At her direction, BANDES conducted substantial trading through the Broker-Dealer. Most of the trades executed by the Broker-Dealer on behalf of BANDES involved fixed income investments for which the Broker-Dealer charged the bank a commission.
As alleged in court documents, from late 2008 through 2012, Chinea and DeMeneses, together with three Miami-based Broker-Dealer employees, Ernesto Lujan, Tomas Alberto Clarke Bethancourt and Jose Alejandro Hurtado, participated in a bribery scheme in which Gonzalez directed trading business she controlled at BANDES to the Broker-Dealer, and in return, agents and employees of the Broker-Dealer split the revenue the Broker-Dealer generated from this trading business with Gonzalez. During this time period, the Broker-Dealer generated over $60 million in commissions from trades with BANDES.
In order to conceal their conduct, Chinea, DeMeneses and their co-conspirators routed the payments to Gonzalez, frequently in six-figure amounts, through third-parties posing as “foreign finders” and into offshore bank accounts. In several instances, Chinea personally signed checks worth millions of dollars that were made payable to one of these purported “foreign finders” and later deposited in a Swiss bank account.
As further alleged in court documents, as a result of the bribery scheme, BANDES quickly became the Broker-Dealer’s most profitable customer. As the relationship continued, however, Gonzalez became increasingly unhappy about the untimeliness of the payments due her from the Broker-Dealer, and she threatened to suspend BANDES’s business. In response, DeMeneses and Clarke agreed to pay Gonzalez approximately $1.5 million from their personal funds.
Chinea and DeMeneses agreed to use Broker-Dealer funds to reimburse DeMeneses and Clarke for these bribe payments. To conceal their true nature, Chinea and DeMeneses agreed to hide these reimbursements in the Broker-Dealer’s books as sham loans from the Broker-Dealer to corporate entities associated with DeMeneses and Clarke.
Court documents also allege that beginning in or around November 2010, the SEC commenced a periodic examination of the Broker-Dealer, and from November 2010 through March 2011, the SEC’s exam staff made several visits to the Broker-Dealer’s offices in Manhattan. In or about early 2011, DeMeneses and others involved in the scheme discussed that the SEC was examining the Broker-Dealer’s relationship with BANDES. DeMeneses and others agreed they would take steps to conceal the true facts of the Broker-Dealer’s relationship with BANDES, including by deleting emails, in order to hide the actual relationship from the SEC.
Chinea and DeMeneses were each charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and the Travel Act, five counts of violating the FCPA, and five counts of violating of the Travel Act. Chinea and DeMeneses were also charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and three counts of money laundering. DeMeneses was further charged with one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice.
Previously, on August 29 and 30, 2013, Lujan, Hurtado and Clarke each pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court to conspiring to violate the FCPA, to violate the Travel Act and to commit money laundering, as well as substantive counts of these offenses, relating, among other things, to the scheme involving bribe payments to Gonzalez. On November 18, 2013, Gonzalez pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court to conspiring to violate the Travel Act and to commit money laundering, as well as substantive counts of these offenses, for her role in the corrupt scheme.
The charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.