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Monday, April 29, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Former Fox execs get split verdict in FIFA bribery trial 

Finding the government’s star witness unreliable, jurors said they struggled coming to a verdict for two of the three defendants.

BROOKLYN (CN) — Jurors deliberated for three and a half days before deciding to convict a former Fox executive on charges that he bribed soccer officials to get competitive broadcasting rights. 

Hernan Lopez, former CEO of Fox International Channels, was convicted of wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy, while jurors acquitted his subordinate, Carlos Martinez, who was president of Latin America for the Twenty-First Century Fox subsidiary, on the same two counts

The men's seven-week trial stemmed from the massive FIFA bribery scandal that bubbled up in 2015, spurring some two dozen public guilty pleas and bringing down Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, who spent 17 years as president of body that governs worldwide soccer. 

Lopez and Martinez were accused of plotting to bribe officials of the South American Football Confederation — one of FIFA’s six continental confederations, known as Conmebol — in exchange for lucrative rights to air South American club soccer’s biggest competition, the Copa Libertadores. 

It was Martinez, not Lopez, who signed a 2012 contract that prosecutors said had served to clean up signs of bribery. But overall Martinez seemed less involved than his onetime boss, a juror told reporters outside the courtroom after the verdict. 

“Martinez just had fewer touchpoints or ‘ahas’ than the others,” said juror Robert Rose, a 50-year-old transactional lawyer from Westbury, New York. 

Rose said it stood out to him that, two years after the “cleanup” agreement, Lopez expressed confusion about its terms, according to internal Fox emails shown in court. 

“Dude, you were in this the whole time,” Rose said. “How is it that you get amnesia two years later?” 

Much of the trial and its closing arguments centered on testimony from cooperating witness Alejandro Burzaco, who was a principal for Torneos y Competencias SA, an Argentinian sports media and marketing business. During his 11 days on the stand, Burzaco described making plans with both defendants — first Lopez, with Martinez joining in later — to pay off officials in South America. 

The timeline is part of what helped to acquit Martinez, a second juror told reporters. 

“By the time [Martinez] came in, things [were] already in play,” said Willie, 68-year-old juror from Queens Village who declined to give his last name. “He wasn’t going to go and throw a monkey wrench into the works.” 

Neither of the jurors who spoke to Courthouse News found the government’s star witness credible, and said they based their verdict on documentary evidence. 

Burzaco has not been sentenced after pleading guilty to racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. He was also a witness at the previous Brooklyn trial linked to the FIFA investigation, which took place in 2017 in the same federal courthouse. Jurors there acquitted Peruvian former soccer official Manual Burga after convicting his two co-defendants. 

U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen polled jurors after they announced the verdict shortly before 5 p.m.

A third defendant, Uruguay-based sports media and marketing company Full Play, was convicted across the board on the two top counts as well as additional charges related to other tournaments. The company, according to court testimony, kept secret bribery ledgers on a thumb drive in a locked safe, which coded Conmebol officials’ names with car names like “Benz,” “Fiat” and “VW.” 

Full Play attorneys said the company's clients didn’t set out to commit crimes and had not received a code of ethics from Conmebol. 

The guilty verdict for Full Play came quickly, the jurors noted, unlike the verdicts for Martinez and Lopez. 

“Full Play — they came out and said they were guilty,” Willie said. “That was easy.” 

An attorney for Full Play was not prepared to give a statement immediately following the verdict. 

For Lopez, it’s not the end of the road, according to his attorney John Gleeson, who served for 22 years as a federal judge in the Eastern District of New York. 

“We’re obviously disappointed with the jury’s verdict,” said Gleeson, a partner at Debovoise and Plimpton. “The proceedings have involved both legal and factual errors, and we look forward to vindicating our client on appeal.” 

Martinez’s legal team left the courtroom in better spirits. 

“We’re just tremendously grateful to the members of the jury for bringing justice to Carlos,” said Washington-based attorney Steve McCool. “It’s been a long road and we really appreciate their efforts.” 

U.S. Attorney Breon Peace for the Eastern District of New York celebrated the trial outcome in a statement following the verdict.

“Today’s verdict is a resounding victory for justice and for soccer fans around the world,” Peace said.

Follow @NinaPullano
Categories / Criminal, International, Media, Sports, Trials

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