Florida Asphalt Company Pleads Guilty in Foreign-Bribery Case

A Florida asphalt company pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe officials of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company and those of two other South American countries, agreeing to pay $16.6 million to end a wide-ranging U.S. investigation.

Sargeant Marine Inc., charged with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, was “part of a scheme and conspiracy to pay bribes on behalf of the company in multiple countries, in Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador, in order to win valuable business contracts,” the government told a federal judge in New York at a virtual hearing on Tuesday.

Prosecutor Derek Ettinger said employees of the Boca Raton company engaged in the plot between 2010 and 2018. Ettinger said they bribed Brazilian officials, as well as officials ofPetroleos de Venezuela SA, and paid off a senior official ofPetroecuador to win a 2014 contract. As a result of the scheme, Sargeant Marine earned about $26.5 million, the government said.

U.S. District Judge Eric Vitaliano in Brooklyn accepted the terms of the plea agreement and sentenced the company immediately.

Prosecutors also disclosed several guilty pleas that had been under seal, including by Daniel Sargeant, described in court papers as “an executive and one of the chief decision-makers” of the company between 2012 and 2016.

In a related case, the U.S. announced the indictment of Javier Aguilar of Houston, the former manager of an oil-trading firm, in a money-laundering and bribery scheme. Prosecutors allege that Aguilar, who was previously charged in a sealed criminal complaint and arrested, made $870,000 in illicit payments to Ecuadorian government officials so they would award a $300 million fuel-oil contract to a state-owned entity for the benefit of his company. Aguilar will be arraigned in New York at a later date, the U.S. said.

Aguilar’s former employer isVitol Inc., according to a person with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be identified because it’s private.

A lawyer for Aguilar couldn’t immediately be located.

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