A Bethlehem Steel representaitve paid a retired South American Admiral $42,000 to help Bethlehem's Baltimore shipyard land a contract for extensive repairs to a Colombian navy ship, according to a deposition taken in a suit by Bethlehem against two former employes.
Although the giant steel firm pleaded guilty last month to raising almost $2 million to bribe representatives of private shipowners to funnel lucrative ship-repair business into its yards, Bethlehem has denied it made similar payoffs to representatives of foreign navies -- an allegation made by the Justice Department.
When retired Rear Admiral Teofilo Victoria Gonzales volunteered to help Bethlehem land the contract for the ship Siete de Agosto, he was retired, according to the deposition. And an earlier transaction, before Victoria resigned from the Navy in 1971, fell through he said.
In late 1971 or 1972, Victoria said, he called Bethlehem's former assistant general manager of the Baltimore yard to tell him that the Colombian Navy needed extensive rehauling of a destroyer and that he could help -- for a price.
After some initial back-and-forth about what the price should be, they agreed on $45,000, according to Victoria, who said he eventually collected only $42,000. Victoria had asked for $50,000, the former admiral said at one point in the deposition.
Victoria started to get the money after the ship was safely in Bethlehem's hands, he said. At least $11,000 was paid in checks; smaller sums of less than $2,000 were mailed in plain manila envelopes, and once Bethlehem's representative met Victoria in the Miami International Airport and handed him a $1,000 bill, Victoria said.
"I remember that specific occasion because . . . I had never seen a $1,000 bill," he said.
Bethlehem's spokesman Marshall Post said yesterday the company would have no comment on any of the allegations in Victoria's deposition, because related matters are still pending in the courts. Victoria, reached at his home, in Miami, said he couldn't say anything more than what he had given the deposition.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane Parver, who prosecuted the Bethlehem case, has said she will include the allegation about foreign navies in a presentencing memo to be filed later this month.
The Bethlehem representative with whom Victoria dealt was former assistant general manager of Bethlehem's Baltimore shipyard, Thomas A. LaMonica. LaMonica retained $3,000 of the money, Victoria said in the deposition.
"He didn't tell me he was entitled to that," said Victoria. "He told me that he had done a lot of work to get me paid, to get my money out and why shouldn't I compensate him for all that trouble, and I said okay."
Last week LaMonica pleaded guilty to a charge that he defrauded a shipping company out of $50,000, knowing that Bethlehem Steel already had paid the same company employe with whom he dealt $30,000 to obtain repair contracts for two of the company's ships.
That followed Bethlehem's admission that it had paid approximately $400,000 in bribes to win ship-repair work at a time when shipbuilding business was in a decline. Bethlehem said it accepted corporate responsibility for the bribes. At the time, the company's attorney Peter E. Fleming noted the government's allegations about bribes to foreign navy representatives, which he said Bethlehem did not admit.
The government said at the time of the plea that it does not intend to charge any officer, employe or agent of Bethlehem for the bribes themselves.
The Victoria deposition was taken earlier this year, but never filed, in a civil suit in which Bethlehem charges that LaMonica and another former employe embezzled money from the corporation. The two denied the embezzlement charge and said that they were following long-standing unwritten company policy in transferring huge sums of cash from a Swiss account to bribe shipowners' representatives. The suit is still pending.
Victoria says different things at different points in the deposition about what he actually did for Bethlehem.
Talking about his initial meeting with LaMonica over the Siete de Agosto job, Victoria said, "I told him that there could be an opportunity for them to win, to be awarded the fixing of the ship, the rehauling; that I could show him how the system worked because I knew the system and I could channel all the papers that way, that they would be able to be awarded the contract."
The understanding was that he would "speed up the process . . . in the navy offices. The papers, pushing from office to office," he said at one point.
Later, he said, "I told Mr. LaMonica that there was the possibility of repairing a ship and that it could go to Bethlehem; that if I help him and I would tell him how he had to present everything, then it was possible they would get the contract and that was the way it happened.
Victoria said no, when asked if he communicated with representatives or officers of the Colombian navy to secure the contract for Bethlehem. "No, I had been a friend of everybody who was in that service and I would request from them a favor of this or that." And he said he did not pay any of the $42,000 to anyone in the navy to secure the contract.
Victoria said he never dealt with Bethlehem directly, only with LaMonica, but that he was dealing with LaMonica as Bethlehem's representative and understood that the money was coming from the firm.