Patterico's Pontifications

10/1/2007

Trial Update: Oscar Wyatt Pleads Guilty

Filed under: Law — DRJ @ 10:46 am



[Guest post by DRJ]

UPDATE: Don Surber explains why this is a Democratic story.

This earlier post discussed the trial of Oscar Wyatt, Jr., that started 3 weeks ago in New York federal court. Wyatt agreed today to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

From the Houston Chronicle:

Houston oilman Oscar Wyatt pleaded guilty today to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, abruptly ending his three-week trial on charges he paid millions of dollars illegally to Saddam Hussein’s regime so he could purchase Iraqi crude under the United Nations oil-for-food program.

“I didn’t want to waste any more time at 83 years old fooling with this operation,” Wyatt said after pleading guilty this morning in a Manhattan federal court. “The quicker I get it over with the better.”

While Wyatt could be sentenced to as much as 20 years in prison for the single count, federal sentencing guidelines call for a sentence of 18 to 24 months. U.S. District Judge Denny Chin set sentencing for Nov. 27.

As part of his plea agreement, Wyatt also will forfeit more than $11 million.

Wyatt entered his guilty plea as the prosecution was about to wrap up its case. The defense indicated it did not plan to call any witnesses and wanted to avoid the potential 74-year sentence that might result from conviction on all 5 counts. Wyatt admitted that “in December 2001 he caused about $200,000 to be deposited into a bank account in Jordan controlled by Iraq’s State Oil Marketing Organization.”

The nature of the charges were technical and described as mind-numbing for the jurors:

The main charges against Wyatt stemmed from 2000 to early 2003, when Iraq was the target of international sanctions imposed after Saddam’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The U.N. had created the oil-for-food program in 1996 to allow Iraq to resume export of oil and generate cash to purchase food and medicine for a needy Iraqi populace.

The program was designed to ensure Saddam’s regime could not seize the proceeds of those oil sales. But by September 2000, Baghdad had devised a scheme to assess its customers illicit surcharges that eventually ranged from 10 cents to 50 cents a barrel.

Prosecutors had alleged Wyatt used a series of front companies, including Cyprus-based Nafta Petroleum Co. and Mednafta Trading Co., to buy Iraqi oil under the oil-for-food program and then pay the surcharges demanded into a bank account in Jordan secretly controlled by the Iraqi government.

To try to prove their allegations, prosecutors had bombarded jurors with internal Iraqi oil company documents, bank statements, a computer database and alleged correspondence between Wyatt and Iraqi officials. At one point, [Judge] Chin warned the prosecution jurors were becoming “numb” from reading all the documents. Indeed, some jurors reacted with visible dismay early in the trial, when they were handed large black binders containing all the documents being entered as evidence.”

The evidence also included testimony from former officials with Iraq’s State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO), including:

Mubdir Al-Khudhair, a former manager with Iraq’s State Oil Marketing Organization, or SOMO, told a federal jury in Manhattan that he attended a meeting in January 2001 where Wyatt was haggling with Iraqi officials over how much of a surcharge he would be willing to pay.

While Wyatt had expressed “his willingness to pay the surcharge,” he objected to the 40-cent-per-barrel fee Iraqi officials were demanding, Al-Khudhair said.”

Wyatt’s defense team questioned this testimony with a letter that indicated Wyatt had no ownership interest in the company that paid the surcharge:

Wyatt’s defense attorneys don’t dispute that those companies may have paid surcharges, but they contend Wyatt did not control those companies. On Monday, Al-Khudhair conceded he did not really know who owned Nafta or Mednafta.

And on Tuesday, the defense displayed a letter Wyatt had sent to Iraq’s then Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz in March 1999 — more than a year before Saddam’s government began trying to collect the illegal surcharges. In the letter, Wyatt proposed Iraq cancel an existing contract with Coastal and, instead, sell oil to Nafta Petroleum. “This is a company in which Coastal owns no stock,” Wyatt told Aziz. “We have had a business relationship with them for over 30 years.”

However, a second SOMO witness testified to similar transactions:

“Yacoub Y. Yacoub, a finance official with Iraq’s State Oil Marketing Organization or SOMO, was the second former SOMO official to testify for the prosecution. He told the federal court jury in Manhattan that he attended a meeting with Wyatt in SOMO’s offices in Baghdad in late 2000 or the beginning of 2001.

At that meeting, Yacoub testified, SOMO officials were complaining about back surcharge payments they said were owed by both Coastal Corp., the Houston firm Wyatt founded, and by Nafta Petroleum. Prosecutors allege Cyprus-based Nafta Petroleum was a front company Wyatt secretly controlled and used to pay illegal surcharges. The defense contends Wyatt did not own or control the Cyprus entity.”

In exchange for his testimony, Yacoub “was allowed to relocate his family to the United States from Iraq and was given more than $150,000 for relocation costs.”

Yacoub was described as “poised and matter-of-fact” during direct examination by the prosecutors, but “faltered under aggressive cross-examination, blurting out: ‘I really do not remember details.'”

It seems the guilty plea benefited both the prosecution and defense, since each might have reasonably believed a jury verdict could go either way.

— DRJ

6 Responses to “Trial Update: Oscar Wyatt Pleads Guilty”

  1. Wyatt was no Soros — neither as rich nor as generous. He’s of a generation when Texas oil men were all yellow-dog Democrats, but I don’t think his misdeeds can fairly be attributed to any particular modern Democratic candidates or organizations.

    My favorite lines from the Bloomberg coverage of the mid-trial guilty plea:

    After his plea, Wyatt was allowed to speak with the jurors. He slapped several on the shoulder as he asked their opinion of the government’s case.

    “Who would have sent me home?” he asked the assembled panel in the jury room. No one raised his or her hand.

    “It was a strong case,” one juror, Ashok Desei, said. “The evidence was a lot,” added another, Len Archer.

    Wyatt is a tough old boot, but given his age, this could amount to a life sentence. Even if he survives it, I think the prosecutors were correct in their apparent judgment that it’s better to get him promptly into prison and get the matter concluded unambiguously. (Compare the Ken Lay situation, in which there is and will always be genuine doubt about whether his conviction would have been upheld on appeal.)

    Beldar (b3518e)

  2. […] Patterico has more. He’s a prosecutor although his sub posted it. Good stuff. […]

    Don Surber » Blog Archive » Democratic billionaire busted (78dd76)

  3. The government should not have wasted taxpayer money to prosicute a patriot like Wyatt. How soon some forget what Wyatt has done for our country!

    Galord Smith (f06ae7)

  4. The Houston Chronicle has an interesting follow-up article on why Wyatt pled guilty and the prosecution let him. Here’s my favorite line:

    “When entering his guilty plea Monday, Wyatt paused a number of times to confer with his lawyers before responding to questions from Chin. But despite the gravity of the moment, Wyatt still maintained his trademark sense of humor.

    When asked by Chin whether he was satisfied with his attorneys’ performance, Wyatt responded: “That’s a broad statement. I’m never satisfied with my lawyers, your honor, ever.”

    DRJ (ec59b5)

  5. THIS IS ONE MORE OF THE EVIL RICH WEALTHY ROBBER BARONS CRIMINALS THAT WHOM FUND AND DONATE MILLIONS UPON MILLIONS OF BLOOD AND CRIMINAL MONEY TO THE DEMOCRTAIC PARTY CRIMINAL MACHINERY WHEREAS THIS MAN OSCAR WYATT JR . WAS AND STILL IS ONE OF SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON?S MAIN BLOOD MONEY FUNDER AND DONATER SHOULD I SAY MORE . I WILL EXPAND AND BROADEN MY DOCTRINES IN FOLLOW UP DFRATS TREVOR MERCHANT MONDAY DECEMBER 10.2007

    TREVOR MERCHANT (611d0c)

  6. […] October, Houston oilman Oscar Wyatt entered a guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud after admitting he had arranged for an illegal […]

    Patterico’s Pontifications » Oscar Wyatt Update (e4ab32)


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