Ecuador en las noticias

Ex-Financial Adviser Gets 3.5 Years For Ecuador Oil Bribe Plot

Law 360 - Nathan Hale 19/12/2019

Foto: El Comercio

Foto: El Comercio

A Florida federal judge came in below the sentencing guidelines Wednesday in ordering a former Miami financial adviser to spend 3½ years in prison for facilitating and helping to conceal a bribery scheme that funneled millions to Ecuadorian oil officials to secure contracts for a private company.

Family and friends of defendant Frank Chatburn Ripalda embraced and shared tears and smiles in the Miami courtroom after U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke issued her decision, which was well under guidelines of about seven to nine years the parties had agreed to in a plea agreement and within the range of sentences previously issued to other co-conspirators.

The 42-year-old Chatburn faced a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of $500,000 or twice the gain or loss in the case, after he pled guilty on the eve of trial in October to a single count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to the court.

“We are very grateful that the court imposed a sentence that took into account the human side of Frank Chatburn,” defense attorney Howard M. Srebnick of Black Srebnick Kornspan & Stumpf said after the hearing. “Even though the probation department suggested a sentence of 15-plus years, the judge imposed a sentence that will allow Frank to rebuild his life and return as a contributing member of our community.”

Following his prison term, which Judge Cooke set to begin Feb. 10, Chatburn will have to serve three years of supervised release. The judge also imposed a fine of $40,000.

As part of his plea agreement, Chatburn agreed to forfeit more than $870,000, prosecutors said at his change of plea hearing, but Srebnick told the court that the government had agreed to allow the defense to argue for a mitigation on that amount based on “money returned to innocent victims.”

During Wednesday's hearing, Chatburn apologized to the court, the government and his loved ones, and said he takes full responsibility for his actions. Since his arrest in April 2018, he said he has felt guilt and embarrassment every day and grown determined to spend the rest of his life bettering himself and his community.

“I will never mortgage my soul again,” he said. “There's no money in the world that could buy what I have in my heart now. If I had only known before, I would never be in this position.”

Chatburn's wife also made an emotional statement to the court, saying that prior to his arrest they had been taking steps to start a family and that she has experienced anxiety and depression “wondering if this opportunity has passed us once and for all.”

Chatburn's brother Mark also asked the court for mercy, saying it has been difficult for him to accept that his brother had failed, but that he remains his role model based on seeing him change and grow since his indictment.

While mentioning the human factors, Srebnick also said he thought the defense team's presentation on the sentences given to Chatburn's co-conspirators had played an important role in helping the judge reach a sentence in context and not just theoretical legal arguments.

So far, the government has secured guilty pleas from 10 individuals — including Ecuadorian government officials, oil services contractors and financial advisers— in connection with the bribery and money laundering scheme, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

At the upper end of the spectrum, former Ecuadorian oil officials Marcelo Reyes and Arturo Escobar, who both accepted bribes, received sentences of 53 months and 48 months, respectively, while at the low end, Judge Cooke sentenced financial adviser Jose Larrea, who was named as a co-defendant in Chatburn's case, to 27 months after he pled guilty last year to assisting in some of the money laundering efforts.

A former adviser with Miami-based Biscayne Capital International LLC who has dual U.S. and Ecuadorian citizenship, Chatburn was hit with a nine-count indictment in April 2018, including charges for money laundering and violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Prosecutors alleged that he funneled $3.2 million in bribes to officials of Ecuador's national oil company, Empresa Pública de Hidrocarburos del Ecuador, which is commonly known as Petroecuador, to obtain and maintain contracts for Ecuadorian company Galileo Energy SA. Chatburn was also accused of helping Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht SA bribe an Ecuadorian official.

Prosecutors also claimed that Chatburn helped set up offshore shell corporations and Swiss bank accounts for Petroecuador officials to help conceal the illicit payments.

Arguing for a sentence within the agreed-upon guidelines of 87 to 108 months, prosecutor Randall Warren pointed to Chatburn's involvement in the scheme for five years and his role in both the bribery and money laundering components. He also pointed to Chatburn's involvement in the separate Galileo and Odebrecht schemes.

“Mr. Chatburn inserted him into this process and did so for profit. And he did so several times and to gain new clients,” Warren said, arguing that placed him at the highest level of culpability among his co-conspirators.

Earlier this week, Petroecuador moved to be recognized as a victim in the case so that it can seek millions of dollars in restitution from Chatburn and his co-conspirators. Judge Cooke on Wednesday set a hearing for Feb. 5 to address forfeiture and restitution in Chatburn's case.

The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment after Wednesday's hearing.

The government is represented by Randall Warden and Mary Ann McCarthy of the U.S. Department of Justice's Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, Brian R. Young, Katherine Raut and David M. Fuhr of the DOJ's Fraud Section and Karen Rochlin of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida.

Chatburn is represented by Howard M. Srebnick, Jackie Perczek and Michèle C. van Meeteren of Black Srebnick Kornspan & Stumpf.

Petroecuador is represented by Raúl B. Mañón of Squire Patton Boggs LLP.

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