Judge: bribery case was “sad chapter”

Speaking so softly from the bench that reporters in the gallery struggled to pick up his words, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon on Tuesday dismissed all charges against 16 defendants in a high-profile Justice Department sting.

Leon, acting on a request from prosecutors, took the unusual step of chastising the Justice Department’s handling of the case and pointed out what he considered to be errors made by authorities. The moment was a stark contrast from when the Justice Department announced 22 arrests in what it called the largest investigation of individuals accused of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a U.S. law that bans people from paying foreign officials for business. In the end, prosecutors ran into serious setbacks in a courtroom. In two trials, the Justice Department failed to win a single conviction — of the 10 people tried, three were acquitted and jurors failed to reach verdicts against seven others. There were various reasons for the courtroom debacle, according to jurors. Among those: FBI agents and their informant used vague language to describe a bribe payments and also exchanged off-color text messages that tainted their credibility.

Because I was not able to capture all of Leon’s words in my notebook, I obtained a transcript of the brief hearing for anyone interested in what the judge described as “the end of a long and sad chapter in the annals of white collar criminal enforcement.”

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