Two years ago, the so-called Catch-22 sting was heralded as a game-changer. Never before had the Department of Justice (DOJ) so broadly employed the kind of aggressive investigation tactics normally associated with drug and mob cases in a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) context.
In January 2010, after a two-and-a-half year investigation, federal agents snared 21 target individuals at a small arms industry trade show in Las Vegas, and one more in Miami. It was the largest mass indictment in FCPA history. In the course of the complex operation, FBI agents had posed as the representatives of a corrupt Gabonese defense minister, soliciting
20 percent bribes on a phony $15 million arms and equipment contract.
In announcing the sting back in 2010, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer made it clear that the rules had changed—federal investigators would now be active and aggressive in rooting out business corruption. The entire operation was a clear attempt to make a splash and send the signal that going forward, any bribe-taker may be a federal agent.
In the wake of the dismissals, FCPA blogs have been abuzz with commenters lambasting the DOJ, calling the sting another case of prosecutorial overreaching.