Ex-Venezuela bank official avoids prison time in bribery case

NEW YORK, Jan 15 (Reuters) - A former official with a Venezuelan state-owned bank on Friday avoided prison time beyond the 16-1/2 months she already served after admitting that she accepted millions of dollars in bribes from a Wall Street brokerage to which she steered business.

Maria de los Angeles Gonzalez de Hernandez, who was a senior official at Caracas-based Banco de Desarrollo Económico y Social de Venezuela, also known as Bandes, was further ordered by U.S. District Judge Denise Cote to forfeit the roughly $5 million she garnered from the scheme.

Cote said she was “affected by the degree of remorse” Gonzalez showed in a statement she read to the court through an interpreter.

“We’re enormously grateful for the court’s compassion and understanding,” said Jane Moscowitz, Gonzalez’s attorney, after the sentencing.

Gonzalez, 57, was arrested in 2013 as part of a bribery probe involving New York-based Direct Access Partners and Venezuelan state-owned development banks.

The investigation led to charges against Benito Chinea, Direct Access Partners’ ex-chief executive, and Joseph DeMeneses, a managing director, each of whom was sentenced to four years in prison in March 2015.

Prosecutors said Direct Access made more than $60 million in fees from trading business referred by Gonzalez.

Direct Access employees in turn paid about $5 million to Gonzalez, who prosecutors said in turn paid a portion of the money to another Bandes employee involved in the scheme.

Prosecutors said Direct Access employees also schemed to direct payments to a banker at another Venezuelan-state owned development bank, Banfoandes.

The scheme was uncovered during a periodic U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission review. Federal prosecutors and the SEC announced initial charges in May 2013, helping to push Direct Access’s parent company into bankruptcy.

Gonzalez, who was arrested in Miami at that time, pleaded guilty in November 2013 to charges including conspiracy to violate the Travel Act and to commit money laundering.

Her plea came after three former Direct Access employees - Jose Alejandro Hurtado, Ernesto Lujan and Tomas Clarke - also pleaded guilty to charges including that they violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Like Gonzalez, they agreed to cooperate with authorities as part of their plea deals. Cote in December sentenced Hurtado to three years in prison and Lugan and Clarke to two years in prison.

The case is U.S. v. Gonzalez, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 13-cr-901. (Reporting by Nate Raymond and Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)