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Former executive for O.C. company pleads guilty in bribery case

January 8, 2009 |  2:50 pm

A former Orange County valve company executive pleaded guilty today to being involved in a plan to pay approximately $1 million in bribes to numerous foreign government officials, the U.S. attorney's office announced.

Mario Covino, 44, entered his plea in Santa Ana, admitting to conspiring to bribe foreign government officials for the purpose of securing business for Rancho Santa Margarita-based Control Components Inc. Covino faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

The company designed and manufactured service control valves for use in nuclear, oil and gas and power-generation industries worldwide, the U.S. attorney's office said in a statement. Covino, a resident of Irvine and an Italian citizen, was director of worldwide factory sales.

From March 2003 to August 2007, he was responsible for overseeing new construction projects and the replacement of valves made by other companies, and he installed at customer plants in more than 30 countries, the statement said.

He admitted that during that period, he caused employees and agents of the valve company to illegally pay about $1 million to employees at nationalized energy corporations in order to get and keep business for the valve company, the U.S. attorney's office said. Covino also admitted that the valve company earned about $5 million in profits from the contracts it obtained as a result of the bribes, the statement said.

The illegal payments were made to officials at companies such as Petrobras in Brazil, China National Offshore Oil Co., the Maharashtra State Electricity Board in India and the Abu Dhabi Company for Oil Operations in the United Arab Emirates, the statement said.

In the plea, Covino also admitted to lying to and misleading auditors during a 2004 internal audit of the company's commission payments and to deleting e-mails and instructing others to delete e-mails that mentioned the bribes.

Control Components' parent company, Imperial Metal Industries Ltd., issued the following statement today, addressing the bribery charges against Covino:

"IMI initiated an independent investigation into irregular payments associated with certain trading contracts entered into by CCI, its severe service business, in August 2007," the statement said. "This independent investigation has been completed and we continue to hope that we can resolve this matter with the US Department of Justice by the end of March 2009."

As part of his plea agreement, Covino agreed to cooperate with the U.S. Justice Department's investigations into the bribes. He is scheduled to be sentenced in July.

--Nathan Olivarez-Giles