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Florida Couple Pleads Guilty for Roles in Procurement Contract Bribery Scheme

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Florida couple who owned a military contracting company pleaded guilty today in federal court in Salt Lake City for their roles in a bribery and fraud scheme involving federal procurement contracts, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney David B. Barlow for the District of Utah.

Sylvester Zugrav, 70, of Sarasota, Fla., pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery and procurement fraud.  His wife, Maria Zugrav, 67, also of Sarasota, pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony related to her efforts to conceal the conspiracy.  The Zugravs were charged in an indictment, returned on Oct. 12, 2011, along with Jose Mendez, 51, of Farr West, Utah, a procurement program manager for the U.S. Air Force Foreign Materials Acquisition Support Office (FMASO) at Hill Air Force Base, in Ogden, Utah.

Mendez was charged in the indictment with conspiracy, bribery and procurement fraud, and has since pleaded guilty to all charges and agreed to forfeit more than $180,000 he received as part of the bribery scheme and awaits sentencing.

According to court documents, the Zugravs owned Atlas International Trading Company, a business that contracted to provide foreign military materials to the U.S. government through FMASO.

In his plea agreement, Sylvester Zugrav admitted that, from 2008 through August 2011, he gave Mendez more than $180,000 in bribe payments, and offered Mendez more than $1.05 million in additional bribe payments contingent upon Atlas’s receipt of future contracts with FMASO.  In exchange for Sylvester Zugrav’s bribe payments and offers, Mendez ensured that Atlas and Sylvester Zugrav received favorable treatment in connection with procurement contracts, including, among other things, assisting Atlas in obtaining and maintaining procurement contracts; assisting Atlas in receiving payments on such contracts; and providing Atlas with contract bid or proposal information or source selection information before the award of procurement contracts.

In her plea agreement, Maria Zugrav admitted that she was aware of Sylvester Zugrav’s bribe payments to Mendez and assisted with concealment of the crime.  According to court records, Sylvester Zugrav provided bribe payments to Mendez in three ways: cash payments via Federal Express to Mendez’s residential address; in-person payments of cash and other things of value; and electronic wire transfers to a bank account in Mexico opened by and in the name of Mendez’s cousin.  Between November 2009 and August 2011, Sylvester Zugrav sent nine FedEx packages to Mendez’s home address.  Each package contained $5,000 in cash, except the last package, containing $3,000, which was seized by law enforcement.  Maria Zugrav assisted her husband and Mendez’s bribe scheme by limiting cash withdrawals from Atlas’ bank account to not more than $5,000 to avoid scrutiny by banking officials and law enforcement. According to the plea documents, on multiple occasions when Sylvester Zugrav and Mendez traveled to the same location, Sylvester Zugrav would give Mendez cash payments and other things of value.  From 2008 through August 2011, Sylvester Zugrav gave Mendez seven in-person cash payments ranging from $500 to $10,000, and purchased a laptop computer and software package worth over $2,900.

As Mendez admitted, during the course of the corrupt scheme, Mendez opened a foreign bank account so that Sylvester Zugrav could pay Mendez larger bribe payments.  Mendez asked his cousin in Mexico to open an account there.  After the account was opened by Mendez’s cousin, Maria Zugrav made wire transfers to the bank account located in Mexico in the name of Mendez’s cousin to avoid detection of the larger bribe payments by law enforcement.  From 2008 through August 2011, Maria Zugrav sent 10 wire transfers to the Mexico account ranging from $350 to $26,700.

Court records also describe additional steps taken to conceal the bribery scheme, including creating and using covert e-mail accounts, using encrypted documents, adopting false names and using code words.  For instance, to avoid detection of their e-mail communications, Sylvester Zugrav and Mendez established e-mail accounts to be used only to communicate requests and offers for bribe payments.  Sylvester Zugrav and Mendez also created password-protected documents for e-mail communications, and used code words and false names. Within the encrypted documents, Mendez adopted the moniker “Chuco” and Sylvester Zugrav used the codename “Chuco”  They referred to cash as “literature.”

Sylvester Zugrav faces a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy count, and Maria Zugrav faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the misprision count.  Sentencing for the Zugravs is scheduled for June 19, 2013.

The case was investigated by the FBI and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Marquest J. Meeks and Edward P. Sullivan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, Assistant U.S. Attorney Carlos A. Esqueda for the District of Utah and Trial Attorney Deborah Curtis of the National Security Division’s Counterespionage Section.