Make us your home page

Is FBI sting the start of a real crackdown on foreign business bribery?


the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of something of value for the purpose of influencing the action of an official in the discharge of his or her public or legal duties

John Benson Wier III, 46 and president of St. Petersburg's SRT Supply, was in Las Vegas this week hawking military equipment from Booth 26506 at the 2010 Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade show.

His sales pitch was short lived. He was one of 22 arrested in a Federal Bureau of Investigation sting Monday and charged with attempting to bribe foreign officials and money laundering.

FBI agents posing as defense officials of an African country proposed a scheme in which U.S. companies would pay 20 percent "commissions" to equip a presidential guard with pistols, tear-gas launchers, bulletproof vests and other supplies.

Wier, says the U.S. Department of Justice, was supposed to provide 1,800 grip-mounted laser sites. Also arrested was Andrew Bigelow, 40, managing partner and director of government programs for a Sarasota company called Gun Search that sells machine guns, grenade launchers and other small arms.

This week, 150 FBI agents executed 14 search warrants in locations across the country, including St. Petersburg.

The 16 indictments unsealed Tuesday represent the largest single investigation and prosecution against individuals in the history of the Department of Justice's enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

That law, if you're not familiar with it, basically tells U.S. companies "thou shalt not bribe" people overseas to win business.

It does not matter if greasing palms still happens to be a common way to transact commerce in many parts of the globe.

This latest and continuing investigation has been under way for 2 1/2 years, Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer said. More than 140 open investigations into violations of bribery laws are pending. "From now on, would-be FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) violators should stop and ponder whether the person they are trying to bribe might really be a federal agent," Breuer said.

Federal support of the foreign antibribery law has yo-yoed wildly since it hit the books in 1977. We'll have to wait and see if the Obama administration really intends a get-tougher approach to broad enforcement or plans occasional publicity events involving smaller businesses.

A few other examples of potential Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations have cropped up here in recent years with little consequence.

Tampa engineering firm PBSJ Corp. this month voluntarily disclosed to the Securities and Exchange Commission that its PBS&J International subsidiary might have violated the antibribery law. There are few details yet.

And four years ago, Outback Steakhouse executives said its South Korean subsidiary might have bribed government officials. The subsidiary executives were replaced, and no other federal action was ever taken against the company.

In the latest case, seven of the 22 people arrested are from Florida. Sounds like we have some local cleaning up of "corrupt practices" to do.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at

Is FBI sting the start of a real crackdown on foreign business bribery? 01/20/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 7:19pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Unlicensed contractor accused of faking death triggers policy change at Pinellas construction licensing board

    Local Government

    The unlicensed contractor accused of faking his death to avoid angry homeowners has triggered an immediate change in policy at the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board.

    Last year Glenn and Judith Holland said they paid a contractor thousands of dollars to renovate their future retirement home in Seminole. But when they tried to move in on Dec. 14, they said the home was in shambles and uninhabitable. They sent a text message to contractor Marc Anthony Perez at 12:36 p.m. looking for answers. Fourteen minutes later, they got back this text: "This is Marc's daughter, dad passed away on the 7th of December in a car accident. Sorry." Turns out Perez was still alive. Now the Hollands are suing him in Pinellas-Pasco circuit court. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  2. SeaWorld shares drop Monday to 2017 low after disclosure of federal subpoena


    The Orlando parent company of SeaWorld and Busch Gardens theme parks saw its stock drop 3.5 percent Monday to $15.10, its lowest price of this year.

    Killer whales perform at Shamu Stadium at SeaWorld in Orlando in 2011, before public pressure was placed on the theme park company to curtail its orca shows.SeaWorld has since announced an end to the traditional killer whale entertainment  at its theme parks. [AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack]
  3. Rick Scott appoints longtime ally Jimmy Patronis as Florida CFO

    State Roundup
    Rick Scott appoints Jimmy Patronis (background) as CFO. [STEVE BOUSQUET | Tampa Bay Times]
  4. Local gas prices plummet as Fourth of July holiday travel approaches


    TAMPA — Local gas prices are enjoying an unseasonal dip around the $2 mark just in time for the hectic Fourth of July holiday travel weekend.

    The price of regular unleaded gasoline has dropped to $1.99 at a Rally station on Pasadena Ave. South and Gulfport Boulevard South, South Pasadena.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  5. Air bag recalls, lawsuits lead Takata to file for bankruptcy


    Shattered by recall costs and lawsuits, Japanese air bag maker Takata Corp. filed Monday for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo and the U.S., saying it was the only way it could keep on supplying replacements for faulty air bag inflators linked to the deaths of at least 16 people.

    Japanese air bag maker Takata Corp. CEO Shigehisa Takada bows during a press conference in Tokyo on Monday. Takata has filed for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo and the U.S., overwhelmed by lawsuits and recall costs related to its production of defective air bag inflators.
[(AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi]