Twenty-two executives and employees at suppliers to the US military and law enforcement agencies were arrested on the eve of their industry's annual trade show in Las Vegas after a two-and-a-half-year undercover sting operation aimed at schemes to bribe a foreign official.
The Justice Department called the case the largest single investigation and prosecution of individuals in the history of the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars bribery of foreign government officials. It also is the first large-scale use of an undercover operation in enforcing the corrupt practices act.
Twenty-one of the 22 people caught up in the case were arrested in Las Vegas, where they were preparing to attend the 2010 Shooting, Hunting & Outdoor Trade Show, a convention with more than 55,000 attendees at the Sands Expo & Convention Center. The convention started Tuesday.
The companies supply a wide range of products to the military and law enforcement, from machine guns and grenade launchers to armored vehicles and bulletproof vests.
In a briefing for reporters, Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, head of the Justice Department's criminal division, said there are more than 140 open investigations under the act.
Charged are people at companies in eight states and executives at companies in Britain and Israel.
The defendants allegedly agreed to pay a 20% commission to a sales agent they believed represented the defense minister for an African country. They were trying to win a multimillion-dollar deal to outfit the presidential guard.
The sales agent was actually an undercover FBI agent, and no defense minister was involved at all.
In Las Vegas, word of the arrests came as a surprise to show organizers, said Mark Thomas, marketing and communications manager for the show host, the National Shooting Sports Foundation of Newtown, Conn. Thomas referred questions about the arrests to the FBI and Justice Department.