BROOKLYN (CN) – New Yorkers laid out their favorite television shows, job responsibilities and their travel experiences in South America on Wednesday and Thursday as attorneys worked to select a jury for the much-anticipated FIFA bribery trial that kicks off next week.
Although the charges unveiled here two years ago swept up 25 international defendants, just three are headed to trial next week with U.S. Judge Pamela Chen presiding.
Juan Angel Napout, of Paraguay, Manuel Burga, of Peru, and Jose Maria Marin, of Brazil, have each pleaded not guilty to charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering. Prosecutors say the men were part of a decades-long scheme at FIFA where media and marketing rights to soccer events were traded for more than $200 million in bribes.
Napout, the former president of the South American soccer confederation Conmebol, was arrested in Zurich in late 2015 as he prepared to attend a FIFA meeting.
Before taking over Conmebol, Napout was president of Paraguayan national soccer. In addition to his vice president role at FIFA, Napout belonged to the international governing association’s executive and disciplinary committees.
Burga was arrested in Lima, also in late 2015. He’d been president of Peruvian soccer from 2002 to 2014 and was on the FIFA development committee.
Marin, who was on multiple FIFA committees including those for Olympic, World Cup and Confederation Cup, had been living under house arrest in Trump Tower since 2015.
All three have been out on bond — $20 million for Napout, $15 million for Marin, $2 million for Burga.
Jury selection was preceded by a hearing where attorneys argued over curfew and other security measures over the course of the trial. The defendants sat quietly, two with interpreters’ headphones in their ears, each surrounded by his separate legal team.
In court Wednesday and Thursday, 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!”
All prospective jurors told Judge Chen they would be able to put such signs out of their minds during the trial, although one juror who was eventually selected said someone outside had told her this is a “‘really important case, but in America no one cares. But internationally the case is a huge deal.’”
She, too, said she could block that out.
The final 18 jurors — 12 with six alternates — are six women and 12 men, about half white.
The jurors ranged from appearing to be in their 20s to their 60s. They include a teacher, two musicians, a line cook, a custodian and a few retired people, among others.
None are huge soccer fans, but at least one prospective juror over the two days seemed to be. He had what Chen called — to laughter in the courtroom — “Pelé hair.”
One of the final 18 jurors mentioned his friends were soccer fans and he’d seen news of the FIFA scandals in passing, but didn’t really follow it.
Against the backdrop of this month’s trial, prosecutors have scored a host of plea deals with accused co-conspirators.
Chen refused in February to dismiss charges against Marin and Napout.
Opening arguments in the Napout, Burga and Marin trial are set for Monday, Nov. 13.