|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2012
TTY (866) 544-5309
PENNSYLVANIA CORPORATION PLEADS GUILTY TO BID RIGGING AT
WASHINGTON — A Pennsylvania corporation pleaded guilty today to participating in a conspiracy to rig bids for the sale of tax liens auctioned by municipalities throughout New Jersey, the Department of Justice announced.
A felony charge was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey in Newark, against Crusader Servicing Corp., of Jenkintown, Pa. According to the felony charge, from at least as early as 1998 until September 2006, Crusader participated in a conspiracy to rig bids at auctions for the sale of municipal tax liens in New Jersey by agreeing to allocate among certain bidders which liens each would bid on. The department said that Crusader submitted bids in accordance with their agreements and purchased tax liens at collusive and non-competitive interest rates.
“The conspirators agreed to not compete with one another at these tax lien auctions, depriving struggling homeowners of a competitive interest rate,” said Scott D. Hammond, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement program. “Today’s guilty plea demonstrates the Antitrust Division’s continuing efforts to prosecute those who manipulate the competitive process in order to harm home and property owners.”
The department said that the primary purpose of the conspiracy was to suppress and restrain competition to obtain selected municipal tax liens offered at public auctions at non-competitive interest rates. When the owner of real property fails to pay taxes on that property, the municipality in which the property is located may attach a lien for the amount of the unpaid taxes. If the taxes remain unpaid after a waiting period, the lien may be sold at auction. State law requires that investors bid on the interest rate delinquent homeowners will pay upon redemption. By law, the bid opens at 18 percent interest and, through a competitive bidding process, can be driven down to zero percent. If a lien remains unpaid after a certain period of time, the investor who purchased the lien may begin foreclosure proceedings against the property to which the lien is attached.
According to the court documents, Crusader conspired with others not to bid against one another at municipal tax lien auctions in New Jersey. Since the conspiracy permitted the conspirators to purchase tax liens with limited competition, each conspirator was able to obtain liens which earned a higher interest rate. Property owners were therefore made to pay higher interest on their tax debts than they would have paid had their liens been purchased in open and honest competition.
A violation of the Sherman Act carries a maximum penalty of $100 million criminal fine for corporations. The maximum fine for a Sherman Act violation may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims if either amount is greater than the statutory maximum.
Today’s plea is the 10th guilty plea resulting from an ongoing investigation into bid rigging or fraud related to municipal tax lien auctions. Eight individuals — Isadore H. May, Richard J. Pisciotta Jr., William A. Collins, Robert W. Stein, David M. Farber, Robert E. Rothman, Stephen E. Hruby and David Butler — and one company, DSBD LLC, have previously pleaded guilty as part of this investigation.
Today’s charge is part of efforts underway by President Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF) which was created in November 2009 to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud. Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations. Over the past three fiscal years, the Justice Department has filed more than 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants including more than 2,700 mortgage fraud defendants. For more information on the task force, visit www.stopfraud.gov.
The ongoing investigation is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s New York Field Office and the FBI’s Atlantic City, N.J. office. Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to municipal tax lien auctions should contact the Antitrust Division’s New York Field Office at 212-335-8000, visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.htm or contact the FBI’s Atlantic City Resident Agency at 609-677-6400.
Tyco Valves & Controls Middle East Inc. (TVC ME) – an indirect, wholly owned subsidiary of Tyco that sold and marketed valves and other industrial equipment throughout the Middle East for the oil, gas, petrochemical, commercial construction, water treatment and desalination industries – pleaded guilty this morning before U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton for conspiring to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA. According to the criminal information to which TVC ME pleaded guilty, the company paid bribes to officials employed by Saudi Aramco, an oil and gas company controlled and managed by the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in order to obtain contracts with Saudi Aramco.
At the conclusion of the plea proceeding, the court sentenced TVC ME to pay a $2.1 million fine, which is included as part of the $13.68 million penalty.
“Today, a Tyco subsidiary pleaded guilty to bribing officials of state-owned entities in various countries to score valuable petroleum contracts and, with Tyco International, agreed to pay nearly $14 million in penalties,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. “Together with the SEC, we are leading a fight against corruption around the globe.”
“For more than 10 years, various Tyco entities bribed foreign officials and cooked the books to hide the payments,” said U.S. Attorney MacBride. “The Eastern District of Virginia has a strong partnership working with the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section on FCPA cases and is aggressively using venue provisions to hold FCPA violators accountable for their conduct.”
As part of the settlement, the department entered into a non-prosecution agreement (NPA) with Tyco. According to the NPA, a number of Tyco’s subsidiaries made payments, both directly and indirectly, to government officials in order to obtain and retain business with private and state-owned entities, and falsely described the payments in Tyco’s corporate books, records and accounts as legitimate charges. From 1999 to 2009, Tyco knowingly conspired to falsify its books and records in connection with these payments.
In addition to the monetary penalty, Tyco and TVC ME also agreed to cooperate with the department, to report periodically to the department concerning the companies’ compliance efforts, and to continue to implement an enhanced compliance program and internal controls designed to prevent and detect FCPA violations.
The agreement acknowledges Tyco’s timely, voluntary and complete disclosure, its cooperation – including a global internal investigation concerning bribery and related misconduct – and its extensive remediation. That remediation includes the implementation of an enhanced compliance program, the termination of employees responsible for the improper payments and falsification of books and records, the severing of contracts with the responsible third-party agents and the closing of subsidiaries due to compliance failures.
In the parallel civil proceedings, Tyco consented with the SEC to a proposed final judgment that orders the company to pay $10,564,992 in disgorgement and $2,566,517 in prejudgment interest – which, together with the Department of Justice penalty, totals more than $26 million.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Kathleen M Hamann and Daniel S. Kahn of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles F. Connolly of the Eastern District of Virginia. The case was investigated by the FBI.
The Justice Department acknowledges and expresses its appreciation for the significant assistance provided by the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.
Additional information about the Justice Department’s FCPA enforcement efforts can be found at www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa.
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2012
TTY (866) 544-5309
TAIWAN-BASED AU OPTRONICS CORPORATION SENTENCED TO PAY
Company Also Sentenced to Adopt Antitrust Compliance Program; Former Top Executives Each Sentenced to Serve Three Years in Prison and to Pay Criminal Fine
WASHINGTON — AU Optronics Corporation, a Taiwan-based liquid crystal display (LCD) producer, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in San Francisco to pay a $500 million criminal fine for its participation in a five-year conspiracy to fix the prices of thin-film transistor LCD panels sold worldwide, the Department of Justice announced. Its American subsidiary and two former top executives were also sentenced today. The two executives were sentenced to serve prison time and to pay criminal fines for their roles in the conspiracy. The $500 million fine matches the largest fine imposed against a company for violating the U.S. antitrust laws.
Today’s sentencing took place before Judge Susan Illston. Along with the criminal fine, AU Optronics Corporation was also sentenced to print advertisements in three major trade publications in the United States and Taiwan acknowledging its convictions and punishments and the remedial steps it has taken as a result of its conviction. The company and its American subsidiary, AU Optronics Corporation America, were also placed on probation for three years, required to adopt an antitrust compliance program and to appoint an independent corporate compliance monitor.
“This long-running price-fixing conspiracy resulted in every family, school, business, charity and government agency who bought notebook computers, computer monitors and LCD televisions during the conspiracy to pay more for these products,” said Scott D. Hammond, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement program. “The Antitrust Division will continue to pursue vigorously international cartels that target American consumers and rob them of their hard earned money.”
Former AU Optronics Corporation president Hsuan Bin Chen was sentenced to serve three years in prison and to pay a $200,000 criminal fine. Former AU Optronics Corporation executive vice president Hui Hsiung was also sentenced to serve three years in prison and to pay a $200,000 criminal fine.
“The number of criminal antitrust cases filed has significantly increased over the last five years, and so has the dedication of FBI resources to these important investigations. The FBI remains committed to thwarting fraud and corruption in the United States and around the world. To that end, we have agents, analysts and professional staff in all of our 56 Field Offices and 63 LEGATs that are committed to fighting these crimes wherever they are found and at whatever level they are found. I would like to commend the employees of the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office and the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, for their fine work on this very important antitrust investigation. This team has devoted countless hours to the investigation and I appreciate their devotion to the mission,” said Assistant Director Ronald T. Hosko, of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.
The companies and former executives were found guilty on March 13, 2012, following an eight-week trial. The indictment charged that AU Optronics Corporation participated in the worldwide price-fixing conspiracy from Sept. 14, 2001, to Dec. 1, 2006, and that its subsidiary joined the conspiracy as early as spring 2003. The jury found that the convicted companies and former executives fixed the prices of LCD panels sold into the United States. The prices were fixed during monthly meetings with their competitors secretly held in hotel conference rooms, karaoke bars and tea rooms around Taiwan. LCD panels are used in computer monitors and notebooks, televisions and other electronic devices. By the end of the conspiracy, the worldwide market for LCD panels was valued at $70 billion annually. The LCD price-fixing conspiracy affected some of the largest computer manufacturers in the world, including Hewlett Packard, Dell and Apple.
Including today’s sentences, eight companies have been convicted of charges arising out of the department’s ongoing investigation and have been sentenced to pay criminal fines totaling $1.39 billion. All together, 22 executives have been charged. Including today’s sentences, 12 executives have been convicted and have been sentenced to serve a combined total of 4,871 days in prison.
Today’s charges are the result of a joint investigation by the Department of Justice Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Field Office and the FBI in San Francisco. Anyone with information concerning illegal conduct in the LCD industry is urged to call the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Field Office at 415-436-6660 or visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.htm.