Ex-Brazilian Soccer Boss Gets 4 Years for FIFA Fraud

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – A federal judge ordered a four-year prison sentence Wednesday for Jose Maria Marin, the former boss of Brazilian soccer who went to trial and lost in the U.S. government’s crackdown on FIFA corruption.

Jose Maria Marin leaves federal court in Brooklyn on Nov. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Marin, 86, was convicted Dec. 22, 2017, after a rollicking weeks-long, millionaire-studded trial. Found guilty on six of seven counts, including money laundering, racketeering and wire fraud conspiracy, Marin is the first convicted trial defendant to be sentenced in the case.

In addition to the prison term, U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen handed Marin a fine of $1.2 million and ordered him to forfeit more than $3.3 million, money he collected in bribes. Restitution will be determined by Nov. 20, the judge said, after further briefing from alleged victims and the parties. Marin has the right to appeal both the conviction and the sentence, she added.

Speaking in a deep voice in his native Portuguese, Marin made an impassioned, tearful plea for freedom during the nearly three-hour proceeding.

“Throughout my life, soccer has been a great love, a source of pride and fulfillment,” Marin said through an interpreter, wearing glasses and reading from a prepared statement. “Now, sadly, it has become my downfall, a nightmare.”

Judge Chen would cut through these remarks later, however, saying Marin “and his co-conspirators were the very cancer on the sport he claims to  love.”

Marin choked up as he spoke about his wife, Neusa, who sat in the first row of the gallery.

“Christ carried the cross,” he said. “I carry two.”

Soon after, the defendant became agitated, slapping the table with one hand, raising his voice and turning to directly address prosecutors Sam Nitze and Kristin Mace. The interpreter shouted to be heard over him. There were several moments of confusion during which defense counsel rushed to Marin’s side, placing their hands on his back, trying to calm him down and likely to quiet him, as he’d apparently gone off-script. In the gallery, Neusa Marin held her head in one hand.

“I can die in prison,” the defendant shouted at Nitze and Mace in Portuguese, his voice shaking. “But don’t take away my wife and my family’s inheritance.”

Chen called for a 10-minute recess. Upon returning, Marin apologized for allowing his emotions to overtake him and said he looked forward to returning to Brazil as soon as possible to spend his remaining days making up for the pain he had caused his family.

Marin went to trial last year alongside former Peruvian soccer head Manuel Burga and former Paraguayan boss Juan Angel Napout, all of whom were accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for the lucrative media and marketing rights of soccer matches.

All pleaded not guilty, making them the only indicted FIFA officials who fought the charges against them after they were extradited to Brooklyn. Napout was also convicted in December, while Burga was acquitted of all charges. The convictions marked a victory for U.S. prosecutors who brought a sweeping indictment two years ago against more than 40 people on similar charges.

In a sentencing memorandum for Marin submitted earlier this month, prosecutors demanded 10 years.

“Marin did more than just agree to receive the payments; he in fact received millions of dollars in illicit bribes,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sam Nitze wrote for the prosecution, stating the evidence at trial proved Marin had collected over $3.3 million in all — and used it to live an opulent lifestyle.

Nitze wrote that Marin, in his own sentencing memo, disputed the amount he actually received in bribes. But Marin’s memo was filed under seal Aug. 10 and had not yet been unsealed before Wednesday’s hearing.

“Marin did not hesitate to spend his ill-gotten gains,” Nitze continued in his memo. “The debit card statements for his Firelli [shell company] account alone reflect hundreds of thousands of dollars in lavish purchases. For instance … Marin spent over $150,000 from his Firelli account, including over $20,000 at Hermes in Paris, $50,000 at Bulgari in Las Vegas, and over $10,000 at Chanel in New York.”

In court months ago, defense attorney Charles Stillman of Ballard Spahr repeatedly referenced Marin’s age and health in pleading for leniency.

Stillman repeated that tack Wednesday, saying Marin’s health had declined during the eight months since his remand. He said his client had a rash all over his body, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression, and was waiting on biopsy results from a mass on his face. Marin’s wife was “emotionally incapable” of visiting him in prison, Stillman added, asking Chen to release his client by their 60th wedding anniversary in September.

“He is a devoted father, he’s a devoted husband, he’s a devoted grandfather who finds himself at the end of his days without access to family, without access to friends … without hope,” Stillman said. “He’s a broken man.”

Three former South American soccer officials, from left, Manuel Burga, of Peru; Jose Maria Marin, of Brazil; and Juan Angel Napout, of Paraguay, accused of accepting millions of dollars in bribes, are shown outside federal court in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/File)

Before and during the trial, which began in November, all three defendants were out on bond — Marin on $15 million. He had been living under house arrest in Trump Tower since 2015.

“This was not a crime of need in any way,” said Chen, noting that Marin’s net worth before he entered the conspiracy was about $10 million.

The day of the verdict, both Napout and Marin were remanded to prison by Judge Chen and almost immediately taken into custody in the courtroom by plainclothes marshals. They spent the entirety of the 2018 men’s World Cup — won by France last month — in prison.

“The goals of sentencing would not be served by allowing a criminal to enjoy the fruits of his crimes until he deems himself too old to pay the consequences,” wrote Nitze.

Marin’s attorneys sought during trial to characterize him as somewhat of a clueless bystander to the corruption rife among FIFA executives. Stillman described his client as someone who was “on the field but not in the game” when it came to the widespread bribes.

Marin may have belonged to Team FIFA, said Stillman, but he was “kind of like the youngster standing off to the side picking up daisies, looking around, while the others are running full steam ahead.”

Such characterizations ultimately failed, however, to sway the jury — or Chen.

“Evidence at trial showed that Mr. Marin was fully suited up and on the field,” the judge said on Wednesday.

“He was someone who could have and should have said no,” she added later. “Instead he put out his hand and joined the game.”

Meanwhile in the government’s sentencing memo, Nitze said Marin’s particular position in the soccer world created a strong need for deterrence.

Brazil is “a country in which soccer holds a special place in the national culture and which wields special influence in the sport owing to the success of Brazilian soccer players and the size of the Brazilian economy,” Nitze wrote. “Marin continued the corruption of one of the most important soccer organizations in the world, out of greed, and to date has expressed no remorse for his conduct.”

At Marin’s sentencing, Nitze reiterated these points.

“He’s no wallflower,” he said, referring to the defendant. “He had every opportunity to show some backbone … instead, he jumped right in.”

During jury selection for the Napout, Marin and Burga trial, nearly all prospective jurors said they had seen a banner held outside the courthouse held by two men. It read, in all capital red letters: “USA help us to arrest the corrupt Brazilians of our soccer administration/jail on them!”

That same sign was back in front of the courthouse this week, making appearances each day before Marin’s sentencing.

“The world is watching to see what type of sentence is imposed here,” Chen said Wednesday, indicating a need for deterrence.

“I do want to send the message that these sort of crimes don’t pay,” she added later.

Before his three-year stint as president of the Brazilian football confederation, Marin was a professional soccer player himself, spending two years as a striker for Sao Paolo. He also served as a lawyer, a state deputy and later governor of Sao Paolo, Brazil. According to Nitze, Marin’s net worth is over $14 million.

Stillman cited Marin’s decades of public service as a possible mitigating factor in his sentence, but Chen said instead it only indicated Marin should have known better than to take bribes.

Other FIFA executives have cooperated with the government, await sentencing or are serving time. In October, Hector Trujillo got eight months for wire fraud, while Costas Takkas earned 15 months for racketeering conspiracy and other charges. Marin’s attorneys asked Wednesday that Chen recommend confinement at a prison in Allenwood, Pennsylvania.

Burga went back to Peru after his acquittal, and, according to the Peruvian sports website depor.com, was spotted taking in a soccer game in the national stadium earlier this month. Napout, convicted of racketeering and wire fraud conspiracy, is set to be sentenced next week.

“Jose Marin’s fall from grace, your honor, has been immeasurable,” said Stillman on Wednesday. “He has become, in a sense, a pariah in South America and the world of soccer internationally.”

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