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Former Federal Judge Stephen Larson On The FIFA Investigation And Charges

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One of my law partners if former federal district court judge and federal prosecutor Stephen Larson.  He joined me to open Wednesday’s show and discuss the sweeping nature of the charges unveiled today:

Audio:

05-27hhs-larson

Transcript:

HH: The biggest story in the world, actually, is about FIFA, which is the international federation of association football, of course, the soccer people. And this morning, the United States Department of Justice announced that nine current and former FIFA officials, as well as five others related to FIFA with, are charged with various corruption allegations, 47 different counts spanning multiple decades of alleged corruption, probably the biggest international corruption case that I can remember. I asked one of my law partners, Judge Stephen Larson, to join me. Judge Larson spent ten years as a Untied States district court judge in the central district of California. Before that, he was a ten years as a federal prosecutor flying around the world going after organized crime. And I thought, my first question is how in the world did we get jurisdiction over these people? And my second was, I wonder if I can find Larson. Judge Larson, welcome, great to have you on the show.

SL: Well, it’s great to be here. Thanks so much, Hugh.

HH: Now I know that you’ve represented a lot of international defendants from mining companies to various businessmen charged with various things. But you don’t have a conflict on this. How does the United States Department of Justice go to Switzerland and get FIFA people arrested in a hotel?

SL: Well, our statutes have a very long arm. They have a very long reach. And it’s not so much, of course, the Justice Department going there, but it’s the Swiss authorities themselves that made the arrest. And they’re in the process of extraditing back, or trying to extradite back these individuals to the United States. That of course will be up to Swiss courts, and I wouldn’t want to presume that that’ll happen. But of course, the Swiss authorities are acting pursuant to our request for extradition.

HH: Now are you surprised that they granted this? This is a big deal, $150 million dollars in corruption alleged. And they went into this luxury hotel, and they just started arresting international representatives of this federation. Are you surprised it went down that way?

SL: Not entirely, because they wanted to do these arrests all at once. Obviously, there was a huge message here. It’s a message that the Justice Department wants to get out not just to the United States but to the entire world, and by doing it in this manner, first of all, there is the pragmatic or practical benefit of having everyone together at the same time so you don’t have to run around and do these arrests in the various home countries where these individuals live. And also, of course, as you point out, it sends a big message, it sends a big splash in terms of the international press. So they’re both practical and consequential results from doing it in this manner.

HH: Now the Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, and James Comey, the FBI director, they both came out and said this is just the beginning. What are they trying to accomplish by that, Judge Larson? Are they trying to get people to step forward first and come to them before they show up with a warrant?

SL: Well, they’re doing two things. First of all, they are in fact doing that. They do want people to come forward, step forward, not only in terms of people turning themselves in if they’re involved, and also getting people to cooperate, people to provide whistleblower action, getting the information that they need to put these public corruption cases together. These are hard cases to put together, and it relies very much on witnesses, on people basically blowing the whistle, turning somebody in. There’s very seldom direct evidence that can be used to put the case together entirely. They need people to come forward. So that’s part of it. The other part of it, and there’s no question that a big part of it is to put the fear out there. This is about deterrence as much as it is about anything else.

HH: Expand on that. And do they, future corruption or to force people to stop doing what they have been doing and turn themselves in?

SL: Well, the truth is the Justice Department has very limited resources relative to the number of potential cases that are out there, right? So they’ve got to conserve their resources. They’ve got to get a big return of investment, as it were, on the resources that they do allocate to a corruption case. So when they undertake one of these things, one of these investigations, one of these prosecutions, they want to get as much mileage out of that as possible to deter as many people from doing that. It’s just like the IRS when they do an audit. They do an audit on a fraction of the cases every year, but they try to make a big splash when they do some of these to get everybody to comply. And it’s the same thing with public corruption cases. It’s the same thing with drug enforcement cases. There’s no way the Justice Department or state authorities can go after everybody. So when they do go after somebody, particularly high profile people, they want to get as much mileage out of it as they can.

HH: Now the Attorney General said today that one soccer official took in more than $10 million dollars in bribes on their own. That’s such large money, and such an extraordinary amount of baksheesh that I’ve got to assume there’s many more hundreds of millions behind that, and that there’s a large network. Everybody wants a chunk of that change once it starts flowing out. How much in danger are companies of having had someone on their payroll or as a consultant who’s tangled up in this web and they don’t know about it?

SL: Well, it’s very challenging for companies. And companies are struggling to create the type of compliance programs that effectively ensure that they’re not going to get in trouble themselves. The Justice Department, local officials, foreign officials, there’s no question they go after anybody they can and try to work their way up the food chain, as it were, towards the board, the CEO’s, the senior executives. And it’s just sometimes very hard for those companies to know what’s going on within their own organizations, particularly the large multinational corporations that are potentially involved in this type of thing.

HH: Now there are two targets I’m particularly interested in. One is television networks, and the other are State Department people. And here’s my first question. Television spends a lot of money to get ahold of the World Cup, and it funds a lot of this stuff. We would be crazy to assume someone in the television world didn’t have their hand in the cookie jar. But how in the world do the networks defend themselves against that having happened?

SL: Well, I never want to assume that anybody has their hand in the cookie jar, because that’s the dangerous brush for us to paint with. But you’re absolutely right that there are huge incentives or motivations here. There’s a lot of money at stake not just with the television folks themselves, but obviously all the advertisers who have a lot of skin in this game. And it’s very hard to know from top to bottom that any organization is going to completely avoid any taint of that kind of corruption. It’s something which there are processes that could be implemented. There are systems that can be implemented within these companies. But it takes a continuous, aggressive effort on the part of corporate citizens to make sure that they’re not falling into one of these traps.

HH: Now 14 people specifically have been charged. If you happen to have done business with one of those 14 people, and you’re not dirty, you just did business with them, are you to assume immediately that you’re now on somebody’s suspect list?

SL: Well, you may not be on a suspect list, but you may find yourself on a witness list. I bet you know, Hugh, when we discussed before was about the Justice Department views the world basically in three categories. You have witnesses, you have subjects, and you have targets. And that’s a sliding scale, and you can easily move from one category to the next. And at a minimum, I would say anyone involved with any of these individuals would have done business with these individuals within a context of any of these events would certainly at least be on a witness list. And they need to make sure that they’re, they take the appropriate steps to ensure that they don’t slide from witness to subject, from subject to target.

HH: Now I’m talking with Stephen Larson, and this is the most important one. When you were a prosecutor, before you were a judge, before you were a practicing lawyer, if you got a case, and I know you chased Russian crime people for a while, if you got a case like this where all of a sudden you’ve got officials of governments involved, and I’m going to assume that, I’m not going to name any governments, but that some governments are worried that they’ve got people involved, does the Department of State ever call up the Department of Justice or the prosecutor and say ease off here, we’ve got bigger fish to fry, for example, the Islamic State?

SL: Well, look, as you know, there’s a whole bunch of different departments, essentially, within the Department of State. And there are entire sections devoted to assisting and working with the Justice Department with international law enforcement and these types of efforts. And those are the parts of the Department of State who are very interested in these types of things. This is a real part of the mission of the State Department. And I think that there is a lot of coordination, particularly when you’re talking about a situation like this where there’s extradition treaties being invoked, and there is, there are a lot of implications, obviously, for our international relations. This is a big deal.

HH: And how long will it go before you actually see someone in front of a federal judge having a jury empaneled, do you think, Stephen Larson?

SL: It depends entirely on how hard they fight. You can drag out extradition proceedings for quite a while. We’re talking months, potentially up to a year. But you can also waive those extradition proceedings, and it can move quite rapidly. So it largely depends on the type of advice each individual defendant receives, and how they want to approach. I suspect there’s going to be a lot of pressure, at least on some of them, to cooperate. And those, I would imagine, would be before a federal judge very quickly. On the other hand, those that don’t want to cooperate, those that are going to play a harder ball, they may drag out those extradition proceedings for quite some time.

HH: Stephen Larson, thanks for joining me on short notice to start the show.

End of interview.

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