Friday, February 03, 2012

Corruption: Vending company executive charged with defrauding Pepsi of $2.9 million

U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of New Jersey

NEWARK, NJ—The chief financial officer of New Jersey vending company Culinary Ventures Vending was arrested this morning in Union, N.J., by special agents of the FBI and IRS-Criminal Investigation on charges he defrauded Pepsi Bottling Group of approximately $2.9 million, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Joseph Belasco, 62, of Cedar Grove, N.J., was indicted by a federal grand jury on one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, five counts of mail fraud, and one count of money laundering for allegedly participating in a decade-long fraud to receive commissions for customer referrals for which he was not responsible.

Belasco is expected to appear this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz in Newark federal court. He will be arraigned on the Indictment before U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares in Newark on a date to be determined.

According to the indictment unsealed today:

In the spring of 1998, Belasco, along with a business associate identified in the indictment as an unindicted coconspirator, created Impact Cause Related Marketing as a subsidiary of Culinary Ventures Vending, a company that placed and stocked vending machines in private and commercial facilities such as state colleges and entertainment venues. The purpose of Impact Marketing was allegedly to provide Pepsi Bottling Group—an independent corporation that served as the largest bottler of Pepsi products in the United States—with leads for acquiring new customers to purchase its cans, bottles, and fountain products. In return, Impact Marketing and Belasco would receive commissions as long as a client remained a Pepsi customer. According to its contract, Impact Marketing would also receive quarterly rebates based on the amount of Pepsi product a customer purchased on an annual basis.

A Pepsi insider, also identified in the indictment as a coconspirator, assigned to Impact Marketing new customers that he developed in his position as a Pepsi representative. He also reassigned existing Pepsi customers to the list of new customers allegedly referred by Impact Marketing, creating additional commissions for leads that Belasco was not responsible for generating.

Between 1998 and 2008, Impact Marketing received approximately $2.9 million in commissions and rebates as a result of the scheme.

Belasco also issued checks from Impact Marketing to the Pepsi insider and his coconspiring spouse for consulting services she never performed and for fees he never earned.

Over the 10-year period of the fraud, the Pepsi insider and his spouse received approximately $1.1 million in phony fees and commissions.

All six mail fraud-related charges each carry a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The money laundering charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Additionally, the indictment seeks the forfeiture of approximately $4 million from Belasco, representing the approximately $2.9 million in fraudulent payments he received and approximately $1.1 million in fraudulent payments he made from Impact Marketing to coconspirators.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Ward; and special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge JoAnn S. Zuniga, with the investigation leading to the Indictment.

The government is represented by V. Grady O’Malley, Senior Litigation Counsel of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Organized Crime/Gangs Unit in Newark.

The charges and allegations contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.