Earlier today in federal court in Brooklyn, Julio Rocha pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy in connection with his receipt of bribes in exchange for his awarding contracts for the media and marketing rights to FIFA World Cup qualifier matches. Rocha, the president of the Nicaraguan soccer federation (FENIFUT) from 1998 to 2012, was the FIFA development officer for Central America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean at the time of his arrest in Zurich, Switzerland on May 27, 2015. As part of his plea, Rocha also agreed to forfeit over $292,000. At sentencing, Rocha faces a maximum sentence of 20 years for each count. Today’s plea proceeding took place before United States District Judge Pamela K. Chen.
The guilty plea was announced by Robert L. Capers, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director in Charge, FBI, New York Field Office; and Acting Special Agent in Charge Anthony J. Orlando, IRS Criminal Investigation, Los Angeles Field Office.
According to court filings and facts presented during the plea proceeding, Rocha negotiated and accepted bribes totaling over $150,000 in exchange for exercising his influence as the president of FENIFUT to award a Florida sports marketing company named Traffic Sports USA, Inc. (Traffic) a contract for the media and marketing rights to the Nicaraguan national soccer team’s home World Cup qualifier matches for multiple editions of the World Cup, including the 2014 and 2018 editions. These bribes were transmitted from U.S. bank accounts, often through intermediaries, to accounts Rocha controlled. After he stepped down as president of FENIFUT and was employed by FIFA as a development officer, Rocha attempted to facilitate Traffic’s negotiations with a high-ranking FENIFUT official for the rights to Nicaragua’s World Cup qualifier matches for the 2022 edition of the World Cup in an effort to receive for himself a portion of any bribe money paid for those rights.
In addition, Rocha used his position as FENIFUT president to further enrich himself through other schemes, including one in which he took kickbacks from a Miami company that he had contracted with on behalf of FENIFUT for the purpose of obtaining assistance in securing corporate sponsorships for the federation.
The guilty plea announced today is part of an investigation into corruption in international soccer being led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the FBI New York Field Office, and the IRS-CI Los Angeles Field Office. The prosecutors in Brooklyn are receiving considerable assistance from attorneys in various parts of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division in Washington, D.C., including the Office of International Affairs, the Organized Crime and Gang Section, the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, and the Fraud Section, as well as from INTERPOL Washington.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Evan M. Norris, Paul Tuchmann, Keith D. Edelman, and Brian D. Morris of the Eastern District of New York are in charge of today’s prosecution.
The government’s investigation is ongoing.