Judge Tosses Conviction of Ex-Fox Exec Hernan Lopez in Soccer Bribery Case

Judge Tosses Conviction of Ex-Fox Exec Hernan Lopez in Soccer Bribery Case

September 3, 2023

A federal judge threw out the conviction of Hernan Lopez, former head of Fox International Channels, who had been found guilty of bribing FIFA soccer officials in exchange for a broadcasting-rights deal.

“We are obviously pleased with Judge Chen’s thorough and correct decision,” David Sarratt, a lawyer for Lopez, said in a statement to the AP. “We have never stopped believing in our client’s innocence.”

Lopez, who after leaving Fox founded podcast network Wondery, was convicted in March 2023 by a jury on charges that he participated in a scheme to bribe South American soccer officials in order to secure exclusive broadcasting rights for 21st Century Fox. In addition, sports marketing company Full Play Group was found guilty for its part in the alleged scheme.

In a Sept. 1 ruling, U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen granted Lopez’s motion for acquittal and also overturned the conviction of Full Play. The judge cited in part the unanimous U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this May to reverse the wire fraud conspiracy conviction of former Joseph Percoco, an aide to former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo. The Supreme Court held that the jury was not correctly instructed about when and how a private citizen can be convicted under the honest-services fraud statute, which is defined under U.S. law as a scheme “to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services.”

“The Supreme Court’s latest wire fraud decisions — especially Percoco — and the absence of precedent applying honest services wire fraud to foreign commercial bribery, requires this court to find that [the wire-fraud statute] does not criminalize the conduct alleged in this case and that therefore the evidence at trial was insufficient to sustain defendants’ convictions under that statute,” Chen wrote. In addition, she wrote, “Defendants’ convictions for money laundering, predicated on their honest services wire fraud convictions, also cannot be sustained. The court therefore grants defendants’ motions to acquit on all counts of conviction.”

In April 2020, federal prosecutors indicted Lopez along with another former 21st Century Fox executive, Carlos Martinez, alleging they were part of a conspiracy to pay millions of dollars annually to FIFA officials in South America between 2000-15 in exchange for broadcasting rights to the Copa Libertadores club tournament as well as confidential bidding information for U.S. broadcast rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments. Martinez was acquitted of the charges in March. 21st Century Fox, whose entertainment assets including Fox International Channels were acquired by Disney in 2019, was not accused of wrongdoing.

Lopez founded L.A.-based Wondery in 2016 with the mission of producing high-quality scripted and unscripted podcast entertainment. After Amazon acquired Wondery, in a deal that closed in early 2021 reportedly worth around $300 million, Lopez said he was leaving Wondery to focus on his Hernan Lopez Family Foundation.

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