A financial advisor based in Miami, Florida, pleaded guilty today to a money laundering conspiracy for his role in using the U.S. financial system to launder money to promote violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and Ecuadorian bribery law violations and to conceal and disguise the true nature of those illegal bribe payments.
Specifically, this conspiracy related to a scheme to pay bribes to officials of Ecuador’s state-owned and state-controlled oil company, Empresa Pública de Hidrocarburos del Ecuador (PetroEcuador).
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Special Agent in Charge Kelly Jackson of the IRS-Criminal Investigation’s (IRS-CI) Washington, D.C. office, Special Agent in Charge Raymond Villanueva of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Washington, D.C., office, and Special Agent in Charge George Piro of the FBI’s Miami Field Office made the announcement.
Frank Roberto Chatburn Ripalda (Chatburn), 42, a dual U.S. and Ecuadorian citizen, pleaded guilty in federal district court in Miami before the Honorable Marcia G. Cooke to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a 20-year statutory maximum sentence. Chatburn is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Cooke on Dec. 18.
According to his admissions at the plea hearing, Chatburn conspired with an oil services contractor to pay nearly $3 million in bribes to Ecuadorian government officials in an effort to obtain and retain contracts with PetroEcuador.
As a financial advisor to the contractor, Chatburn agreed to make bribe payments for the benefit of several then-PetroEcuador officials through the use of shell companies and bank accounts in the United States, Panama, the Cayman Islands, Curacao and Switzerland. To conceal the bribe payments and to promote the scheme, Chatburn established Panamanian shell companies with Swiss bank accounts on behalf of two then-PetroEcuador officials.
Chatburn further admitted that he conspired with another Ecuadorian government official to conceal bribe payments intended for the official from Odebrecht S.A., the Brazilian construction conglomerate. Chatburn facilitated hiding these bribe payments by conducting the transactions through several shell companies and bank accounts in multiple jurisdictions, including in the United States.
Odebrecht S.A. pleaded guilty on Dec. 21, 2016, in the Eastern District of New York to conspiring to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA in connection with a broader scheme to pay nearly $800 million in bribes to public officials in twelve countries, including Angola, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Mozambique, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.
To date, 10 individuals, including former Ecuadorian government officials, oil services contractors and financial advisors, have pleaded guilty to criminal charges in U.S. courts for their involvement in the PetroEcuador bribery and money laundering schemes.
This case was investigated by HSI and IRS-CI, jointly under the auspices of the Global Illicit Financial Team, and by the FBI’s International Corruption Squad in Miami. Deputy Chief Brian Young, Assistant Chiefs David Fuhr and Lorinda Laryea, Trial Attorney Katherine Raut of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, and Trial Attorneys Randall Warden and Mary Ann McCarthy of the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (MLARS) are prosecuting the case.
The U.S. Marshals Service and the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs have provided significant assistance by obtaining evidence in this case, as have public authorities in, among other countries, Ecuador, Panama and the Cayman Islands.
MLARS’s Bank Integrity Unit investigates and prosecutes banks and other financial institutions, including their officers, managers and employees, whose actions threaten the integrity of the individual institution or the wider financial system.