Germany-based company agrees to pay $15 million in LeNature's fraud
By Richard Gazarik
Published: Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, 10:42 a.m.
A Germany-based equipment manufacturer will pay a record $15 million fine to avoid prosecution in the financial collapse of LeNature's beverage company of Latrobe, according to U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton.
Krones Aktiengesellschaft and its American subsidiary, Krones Inc. of Franklin, Wis., signed an agreement with prosecutors that ends a criminal probe of the company's alleged role in helping former LeNature's CEO Gregory Podlucky skim $118 million by inflating the cost of bottling equipment for LeNature's Phoenix plant.
Hickton said on Thursday the penalty is the largest ever imposed in the Western District of Pennsylvania.
Hickton said Krones cooperated in the investigation that led to Podlucky pleading guilty to mail, bank and wire fraud along with money laundering and tax charges. He is serving a 20-year sentence in a federal prison. His wife, son, brother, two former company executives and another former employee are serving prison time for their roles in Podlucky's $861 million scam that led to the beverage maker's demise.
Court documents indicate Krones' involvement with Podlucky's intricate plot began when he decided to expand the company's operations to Phoenix.
The U.S. Attorney said lenders financing the equipment were given inflated costs by Podlucky, which were then confirmed by Krones officials. Those numbers were about twice the actual cost of the equipment, court records show. Eventually, Krones returned about $118 million of the overpayments to Podlucky, records indicate.
The investors later learned about the deal from an informant and filed suit against Krones and its German parent company.
When LeNature's went bankrupt in 2006, the Phoenix equipment was sold at a fire sale for $18 million, according to bankruptcy court records.
“We entered into this agreement with Krones because we are satisfied the penalty is of a magnitude adequate to deter Krones from becoming an instrument of a criminal scheme in the future, as well as to deter others from transacting business by deceitful means,” Hickton said.
Konie Brenneman, a spokeswoman for Krones Inc., said the company has cooperated fully with the U.S. Attorney's office in its investigation of LeNature's.
She said the settlement includes $110 million in payments to private parties and the bankruptcy trustee representing creditors.
“Krones denies having knowingly participated in LeNature's fraudulent activities in any way, and admits no fault or misconduct in its dealings with LeNature's,” she said. “In the course of doing business, Krones was manipulated by LeNature's and subjected to fraudulent and unethical activities.”
Legal experts say the deal struck with Krones is not unusual.
Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at St. Vincent College near Latrobe, said that a company can't be imprisoned, and a trial would have likely resulted in a fine anyway.
“Prosecutors primarily are looking for restitution as a result of prosecution. If a prosecutor can achieve that by an agreement and forestall a jury trial, that would benefit the government more than a trial and forestall the cost,” he said.
Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Panthers free agent safety headed to Steelers
- Review: ‘Once’ charms as it breaks rules of musical theater
- Forward supervisors OK park funding proposal
- Printing delinquent tax list pays off for Highlands
- Obama budget puts more money into nuclear cleanup, not locks and dams
- Fields set for primary elections on May 20
- Rural Ridge residents question NRG’s plans for landfill
- Orpik rises to occasion as Penguins take down Capitals once again
- Chamber event targets small business, health care
- Obamacare dramatically increases costs for some small businesses
- Penguins notebook: Letang skating, but no return set