Ex-employee of LyondellBasell pleads guilty in multimillion-dollar kickback scheme

KHOU

March 11, 2011

HOUSTON -- A former LyondellBasell employee from Bellaire has pleaded guilty to four felony charges in connection with a multimillion-dollar kickback scheme, U.S. Attorney Jose Angel Moreno announced Friday.

Jonathan Paul Barnes, 55, is accused of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to engage in international money laundering, making a false statement in a passport application and bulk cash smuggling.

The conspiracy charges each carry a punishment of up to 20 years in prison. The passport charge carries a punishment of up to 10 years imprisonment, while bulk cash smuggling carries a maximum punishment of five years' incarceration.

All of the offenses also carry a fine of up to $250,000, except for the money laundering offense, which carries a fine of $500,000 or twice the value of the laundered funds, whichever is greater. 

As part of his plea deal, Barnes agreed to an $82-million forfeiture order and restitution judgment.

He also agreed to forfeit numerous assets obtained with proceeds from the kickback scheme, including more than $8 million previously seized from Barnes' bank accounts, more than a dozen luxury vehicles - including a 1957 Cadillac once owned by Frank Sinatra, a boat, 14 pieces of high-end jewelry and real estate in Texas and New York.

According to court documents, Barnes worked for Houston Refinery LP, a subsidiary of LyondellBasell that operates a large refinery in Houston.

Houston Refinery imports most of its crude oil from Venezuela, and the shipping of that oil is a significant expense.

In late 2006, Jonathan Barnes became the Marine Chartering Manger at Houston Refinery responsible for entering into agreements and prices with shipping companies. From January 2007 through January 2010, Barnes agreed to have Houston Refinery pay approximately $82 million above market prices for shipping in exchange for millions of dollars in kickbacks from the individuals receiving the inflated payments. 

Two of Barnes' codefendants allegedly controlled two of the bank accounts receiving the inflated payments and paid Barnes approximately $20 million in kickbacks. These co-defendants allegedly funneled the kickbacks to Barnes' domestic bank accounts using a Swiss bank account in the name of another offshore entity in order to conceal that the kickbacks were coming from the entities doing business with Houston Refinery. 

The passport fraud and cash smuggling charges are based on events occurring after Aug. 10, 2010, when federal agents served Barnes with seizure warrants for automobiles, jewelry and other items purchased with the fraud proceeds. On that day, Barnes agreed to turn over his passport to law enforcement. A couple weeks later, however, he filed an application for a new passport in which he falsely stated that he had lost the passport. Barnes then used the passport to engage in foreign travel. On Nov. 12, 2010, agents arrested Barnes at Bush Intercontinental Airport for passport fraud when his flight returned from Europe. Barnes failed to declare on the customs form that he had U.S. and foreign currency in his luggage valued at more than $50,000.

Barnes' sentencing is set for June 12, 2011. He has been in federal custody since Nov. 12, 2010, when he was arrested on the passport fraud charge. The trial of Bernard Langley and Clyde Meltzer, who are charged in this case and presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law, is currently scheduled for May 16, 2011.