By Samuel Rubenfeld
A second superseding indictment filed in a foreign bribery case involving Cinergy Telecommunications Inc. names a co-conspirator as a seventh co-defendant.
The latest superseding indictment, filed Friday in Miami federal court, named Cecilia Zurita, a former vice president of Cinergy, as a co-defendant in the case. In the earlier superseding indictment filed in July 2011, Zurita is referred to as “Co-Conspirator CZ” throughout.
Cinergy, which is based in Miami, and five others were charged in July with paying $1.4 million in bribes to officials at Haiti’s state-owned telecommunications firm. The indictment filed Friday alleges an additional $1.22 million in bribes paid.
A trial in the case scheduled for December was postponed until late February by U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez after a lawyer for the company apparently dumped thousands of documents on prosecutors.
The second superseding indictment charges the company and the co-defendants with violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, money laundering and conspiracy, the same 28 counts in the first chargesheet. It also alleges more than $2.9 million is subject to forfeiture if the defendants are convicted; the earlier indictment subjected $1.7 million.
“I’m shocked and dismayed,” said Joel Hirschhorn, the lawyer for Cinergy, Zurita and Washington Vasconez Cruz, Cinergy’s president who is also Zurita’s husband. “Shocked because evidence of criminal conduct is nonexistent. Dismayed because the government tried to blackmail a responsible businessman by trying to indict his wife.”
“What planet is the Department of Justice on?” Hirschhorn asked. He is with the firm Hirschhorn & Bieber.
While serving as vice president, Zurita was in charge of overseeing Cinergy’s finances, the indictment said. She also served as vice president of Uniplex Telecom Technologies Inc., which was dissolved by the state of Florida in 2008.
Zurita, according to the indictment, would issue checks to shell companies and intermediaries, which would then use the money to pay officials at Haiti Teleco, the state-owned telecom. To conceal the bribery, Zurita included false memos on the checks, the indictment said.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
The charges are part of a broader investigation of Florida telecoms that allegedly paid bribes to Haitian officials in return for preferred rates and other business advantages. The president of one company, Terra Telecommunications Inc., was sentenced in October to 15 years in prison, the longest sentence ever handed down in an FCPA case. A Terra vice-president also was sentenced to seven years in that trial.
Terra, which in the Cinergy indictment filed in July was referred to as “Corporation T,” is also named in Friday’s superseding indictment. Two of the co-defendants, Jean Rene Duperval, a director of international relations for Haiti Teleco, and Marguerite Grandison, an alleged intermediary who is Duperval’s sister, are charged in the Cinergy case with conspiring to launder bribes from Terra.
A lawyer for Duperval didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The voice mailbox for a lawyer representing Grandison was full.
Hirschhorn, meanwhile, maintained that his clients would be exonerated should the case go to trial.
“This isn’t a question of not guilty; it’s a question of innocence,” he said. “You would think the U.S. government has better things to do than chase after legitimate businesspeople.”
Read the second superseding indictment below: