The former chief legal officer and president of a New Jersey-based tech services company allegedly discussed a scheme to bribe government officials during video conference calls, according to an indictment filed in New Jersey federal court.
Prosecutors allege that ex-CLO Steven Schwartz and former president Gordon Coburn of Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp. in Teaneck authorized a construction company to pay more than $3.6 million in bribes to secure a planning permit for a large campus in Chennai, India.
The payments allegedly fast-tracked the building project, allowing Cognizant to avoid costly delays and related expenses, which would have included paying to support thousands of India-based employees in different facilities, according to prosecutors.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced Feb. 15 that New Jersey-based Cognizant had agreed to pay $25 million to settle allegations that it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Now, Schwartz and Coburn are facing charges from the SEC and the Department of Justice, which alleges in the aforementioned 12-count indictment in U.S. District Court in New Jersey that the duo violated the FCPA, conspired to violate the FCPA, falsified books and records and circumvented or failed to implement internal accounting controls.
Roberto Finzi, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York, and Joel Myers, a partner at Bohrer PLLC in New York and a former state and federal prosecutor, are defending Schwartz.
Finzi has said that Schwartz “is totally innocent and did nothing wrong. He will fight these false and unfair charges.”
Coburn’s attorney, Hank Walther, a former federal prosecutor and partner at Jones Day in Washington, D.C., said Wednesday in an emailed statement: “We are disappointed that DOJ and SEC chose to pursue these allegations. Mr. Coburn intends to vigorously fight all charges.”
The DOJ indictment alleges that Coburn and Schwartz participated in two video conference calls with a pair of unnamed co-conspirators in April 2014, when Coburn and Schwartz were told that the construction company in question had received a bribe demand from government officials in India.
Coburn, Schwartz and the co-conspirators allegedly “agreed during these calls that the construction company would pay the bribe, and that Cognizant would reimburse the construction company for the bribe payment.”
Based on their communications with the co-conspirators, which also included email exchanges, prosecutors allege that Coburn and Schwartz also knew that reimbursement for the bribe would be included in the amount that Cognizant agreed to pay the construction company. And they allegedly knew that a claims list for the construction company’s expenses had been falsified in an attempt to conceal the illicit payment.
According to the DOJ and SEC, Schwartz and Coburn kept Cognizant’s chief financial officer, CEO and auditor in the dark about the alleged bribery payments.
Schwartz allegedly gave Coburn approval to sign management representation letters between August 2014 and June 2016 in which Coburn falsely certified that he had no knowledge of fraud or any other violations at the company.