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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Seven-Year Sentence in Oil Kickback Scheme

HOUSTON (CN) - A former LyondellBasell Industries employee was sentenced to seven years in prison and ordered to pay $82 million in restitution for fraud and money laundering in a multimillion-dollar oil kickback scheme.

Johnathan Paul Barnes, 56, of Bellaire, was sentenced Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Sim Lake.

Barnes pleaded guilty in March 2011 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, making a false statement in a passport application, bulk cash smuggling and conspiracy to engage in international money laundering: concealing the source and nature of money sent from Swiss bank accounts to the United States.

Barnes admitted running a scheme that overcharged Houston Refinery LP, the Lyondell subsidiary, $82 million for oil shipments from Venezuela.

Barnes was marine chartering manager for the subsidiary and was responsible for entering into contracts and negotiating prices with shipping companies.

He was assisted by two oil traders, co-defendants Bernard Langley, 54, of the United Kingdom, and Clyde Meltzer, 65, of Houston and Livingston, N.J. Both pleaded guilty and will be sentenced on April 12.

"Langley and Meltzer controlled two of the bank accounts receiving the inflated payments and paid Barnes approximately $20 million in kickbacks," prosecutors said in a statement. "Meltzer and Langley funneled the kickbacks to Barnes' domestic bank accounts using a Swiss bank account in the name of another offshore entity in order to conceal that the kickbacks were coming from the entities doing business with Houston Refinery."

A fourth alleged conspiractor, Alireza Etessami, 37, of Venezuela, was recently arrested and is scheduled for trial on Feb. 6.

Federal authorities have seized assets valued at $20 million. The forfeited assets include money repatriated from Swiss bank accounts, real estate in the Houston area, Florida and Upstate New York, more than 15 luxury and classic vehicles, including a 1957 Cadillac once owned by Frank Sinatra, a boat and high-end jewelry.

The passport fraud and cash smuggling charges arose after federal agents served Barnes with seizure warrants in August 2011 for automobiles, jewelry and other items purchased with the fraud proceeds. Prosecutors say Barnes agreed to turn over his passport to law enforcement, then filed an application for a new passport in which he said he had lost his old passport, and used the new one to travel out of the country. He was arrested at Bush Intercontinental Airport in November on a passport fraud charge when his flight returned from Europe. He also failed to declare on customs forms that he had more than $50,000 in currency.

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