One of the most important parts of a federal criminal case is the sentencing phase when lawyers argue how the Federal Sentencing Guidelines apply. Case in point: Marcelo Reyes Lopez, a former in-house lawyer for PetroEcuador, who was sentenced to 53 months in prison for laundering bribe money by U.S District Judge Kathleen Williams in Miami.
According to court documents, Reyes Lopez was indicted on Oct. 24, 2017, in the Southern District of Florida on a single count of conspiracy to launder about $2 million that had been received illegally under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and Ecuadorean law, meaning it was bribe money. His crime allegedly occurred from 2013 to May 2016. He pleaded guilty on April 11.
Federal crime sentencing is determined by two things: (1) the statute of conviction, which sets the maximum penalty in the form of a fine or imprisonment; and (2) the federal sentencing guidelines.
Under the money laundering statute, Reyes Lopez could have faced up to 20 years in prison, but he reached a plea deal with prosecutors in April and is cooperating with investigators. In the plea agreement, he agreed to fully cooperate with the government by providing truthful information and producing documents, records, testimony and other evidence about the conspiracy.
Under the federal sentencing guidelines, calculation of the appropriate sentencing range is dependent on a point system that starts with a base offense level for the specific crime of conviction. This level can be adjusted upwards or downwards based upon certain characteristics of the offense, the defendant’s behavior, the victim’s role and relationship to the defendant, whether the defendant played aggravating or mitigating role in the offense, and whether the defendant accepted responsibility by entering a plea.
Reyes Lopez argued for a sentence of 57 to 71 months in prison based on the guidelines calculations. Federal probation, who is responsible for calculating the guidelines level on behalf of the government, disagreed and recommended an upward adjustment on the guidelines, suggesting he played “an aggravating role in the conspiracy” and abused the trust of his position, thus “facilitating the commission or concealment of the offense,” according to documents.
Reyes Lopez objected to any upward adjustment, describing his role in the crime as minor, arguing that Reyes Lopez:
- “Did not have decision making authority [as to the crime]. The money laundering scheme was set up and operated by other co-conspirators.”
- Was a beneficiary of the money laundering scheme, but it operated with, or without, him.
- Did not recruit any accomplices.
- Had a minor role as part of a larger scheme involving several PetroEcuador officials and other Ecuadorean government officials. Several co-conspirators financially benefited much more than he did and accepted many more bribes during the relevant time period.
- Did not participate, plan or organize the money laundering scheme.
- Had no control or authority over others in the scheme.
The judge agreed with Reyes Lopez on sentencing and adjusted the guidelines downward. She also placed him on three years’ probation on his release.