WASHINGTON – Jurors were too divided to reach a verdict in the first U.S. case involving an undercover sting operation to catch bribery of foreign officials, so U.S. District Judge Richard Leon declared a mistrial Thursday.
Last year 22 businessmen who sell military equipment were arrested at a Las Vegas trade show where they anticipated picking up checks for supplies they sent to outfit Gabon's presidential guard.
But no officials from the central African nation were really involved in the fake $15 million deal that included a $1.5 million "commission" to the defense minister. The contracts were staged by the FBI.
Four men on trial in the first prosecution from the sting said it wasn't clear the commission was illegal because the word bribe was never used. Prosecutors said after the judge declared a mistrial that they plan to retry the case. The others arrested in the sting are still awaiting trial.
The sting was designed to enforce the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which had fallen into infrequent use. The first-time use of an undercover sting was part of a Justice Department push that has sent the number of prosecutions soaring in the last few years. The sting produced the largest group of individuals ever charged for FCPA-related violations.
The defendants and the positions they held at the time of the sting are:
— Briton Pankesh Patel of Quartermaster's Ltd., a company based in the United Kingdom that sells military and law enforcement uniforms.
— John Benson Wier III of St. Petersburg, Fla., president of SRT Supply Inc., which sells tactical and ballistic equipment.
— Andrew Bigelow of University Park, Fla., managing partner and director of government programs for Heavy Metal Armory, which sells machine guns, grenade launchers and other firearms.
— Lee Tolleson of Mountain Home, Ark., director of acquisitions and logistics for ALS Technologies, a company that sells law-enforcement and military equipment.
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