Law360 (October 14, 2020, 4:19 PM EDT) -- A Florida federal judge signed off Tuesday on prosecutors' request to reduce by nearly two years the sentences of two Venezuelan nationals who were convicted in a conspiracy to move about $60 million in bribes to officials at Venezuela's national electricity company, acknowledging the pair's cooperation in securing other convictions.
U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga agreed to reduce the 51-month sentences for Luis Alberto Chacin Haddad and Jesus Ramon Veroes to 30 months because of their cooperation with the government, as they provided detailed information about how the bribes were facilitated and how the money was laundered that led to the indictment of two other individuals.
But she rejected their requests to reduce their sentences further because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Chacin, who is 55 and has a history of hepatitis B, is at increased risk of complications from the coronavirus and suggested that he could have his sentence reduced to about 16 months of home confinement. Veroes, 70, has already had COVID-19, and he made a similar request, citing "increased evidence of so-called COVID 'long-haulers'" who deal with lingering health problems months after infection.
But the court noted that their original 51-month sentences were already below the advisory guidelines range, and the reduction requested by the government was consistent with the level of cooperation Chacin and Veroes gave.
"Such cooperation is appropriately rewarded by a 40 percent reduction, which equates to 30-month reductions of defendants' already below-guidelines sentences," Judge Altonaga said. "The COVID-19 pandemic and the increased risk posed to inmates with health conditions serving sentences in Bureau of Prisons facilities ... are not factors the court considers in assessing the propriety and extent of sentence reductions."
The two men pled guilty in June 2019 to one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in connection with the alleged plot to bribe top public officials at Corporacion Electrica Nacional SA, which is commonly known as Corpoelec.
According to prosecutors, after Chacin told Veroes about his failed attempts to win Corpoelec contracts through legal bidding efforts, Veroes met with a Corpoelec official with whom he had a longstanding relationship and secured agreements for several contracts with the understanding that a portion of the profits would be shared with Corpoelec officials as a kickback.
Factual proffers signed by Chacin and Veroes detail three contracts that Corpoelec awarded to Search Trading LLC, a Miami-area company owned by Chacin, in 2016 as a result of those agreements. The contracts called for Search Trading to supply Corpoelec with forklifts for $6.4 million, transformers for $9.8 million, and generators for about $894,000.
Chacin and Veroes later secured two additional contracts worth a combined $41.5 million to supply light bulbs to Corpoelec through Headline LLC, another company owned by Chacin, according to the proffers.
Prosecutors said Chacin sent Veroes his share of the profits through two transfers of nearly $1.3 million each from his companies to Doral, Florida-based NV Oriental Trading Corp., whose president was a close relative of Veroes.
Veroes and Chacin's cooperation with the federal government helped lead to charges being filed late June against Venezuela's former minister of electrical energy, who led the utility, and its former procurement director, according to prosecutors. The indictment claimed the ex-officials, Luis Alfredo Motta Dominguez and Eustiquio Jose Lugo Gomez, laundered millions of dollars they received as bribes in connection with the conspiracy.
An attorney for Chacin declined to comment. An attorney for Veroes and a representative for the government did not respond to requests for comment.
The government is represented by Joseph Palazzo and John-Alex Romano of the U.S. Department of Justice's Criminal Division, and Michael B. Nadler, Annika M. Miranda and Nalina Sombuntham of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida.
Chacin is represented by Theresa Mary Bailey Van Vliet of Genovese Joblove & Battista PA, and Carlos A. Perez-Irizarry.
Veroes is represented by Steven Benjamin Ross of Ross & Asmar LLC.
The case is U.S. v. Chacin Haddad et al., case number 1:19-cr-20351, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
--Additional reporting by Nathan Hale. Editing by Adam LoBelia.
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