Houston, Texas - A dual U.S.-Venezuelan citizen who controlled multiple U.S.-based companies pleaded guilty Wednesday for his role in the Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) foreign bribery scheme. The case involves bribes paid to PDVSA officials - Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company - and its Houston, Texas-based subsidiary Citgo Petroleum Corporation (Citgo), to corruptly secure and retain energy and logistics contracts.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas (SDTX) and Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Houston Field Office made the announcement.
Jose Manuel Gonzalez Testino (Gonzalez), 49, of Miami, Florida, pleaded guilty in federal court in Houston to one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), one count of violating the FCPA and one count of failing to report foreign bank accounts. U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller of the Southern District of Texas accepted his plea today and set sentencing for August 28.
Gonzalez was arrested on July 31, 2018, at Miami International Airport in connection with a criminal complaint filed in the Southern District of Texas.
Gonzalez controlled a number of U.S. and international companies that provided goods and services to PDVSA. According to admissions made in connection with his guilty plea, beginning in or around 2012 and continuing through at least 2018, Gonzalez conspired with others to bribe PDVSA officials. Gonzalez admitted that beginning in November 2012 and continuing until at least June 2013, he and a co-conspirator paid at least $629,000 in bribes to Cesar Rincon David Godoy (Rincon), the former general manager of Bariven, PDVSA’s procurement subsidiary. Gonzalez also admitted he and his co-conspirators paid bribes to Alfonso Eliezer Gravina Munoz (Gravina) during the time Gravina was a PDVSA official at PDVSA Services Inc., another Houston-based PDVSA subsidiary. In exchange, Rincon and Gravina provided Gonzalez with inside information concerning PDVSA procurement processes and took steps to direct PDVSA contracts to Gonzalez’s companies and to give Gonzalez’s companies other business advantages. Gonzalez admitted these included priority over other vendors to receive payments.
Gonzalez also admitted to making bribe payments to several PDVSA officials who were based in Houston and employed by Citgo. Though Citgo acted primarily as a refiner, transporter and marketer of petroleum-based products, it also procured goods and services on behalf of PDVSA through its Special Projects group. Gonzalez admitted he and his co-conspirators paid at least four Citgo officials in the Special Projects group and provided gifts and other things of value to a senior Citgo executive. In exchange, Gonzalez admitted the Citgo officials assisted his companies in obtaining contracts for new business, provided inside information concerning the PDVSA bidding process, helped conceal the fact that Gonzalez controlled multiple companies on certain bidding panels for PDVSA projects and assisted Gonzalez in receiving payment priority for outstanding PDVSA invoices. Gonzalez also admitted he had a financial interest or signatory authority over multiple foreign bank accounts and failed to file a foreign bank account report, or “FBAR,” in 2017.
Gonzalez becomes the latest individual to plead guilty as part of a larger, ongoing U.S. government investigation into bribery at PDVSA. Including Gonzalez, the Justice Department and the SDTX have announced charges against 21 individuals, 16 of whom have entered guilty pleas in connection with the investigation. Charges against the other five defendants remain outstanding. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
HSI in Houston is conducting the ongoing investigation with assistance from HSI in Boston and Miami. Trial Attorneys Sarah E. Edwards and Sonali D. Patel of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and SDTX Assistant U.S. Attorneys John P. Pearson and Robert S. Johnson are prosecuting the case. SDTX Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristine Rollinson is handling the forfeiture aspects of the case. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida and the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs also provided assistance.
The Fraud Section is responsible for investigating and prosecuting all FCPA matters.