Charles "Chuck" Duross served as deputy chief of the criminal division fraud section overseeing the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act unit for nearly four years. In January 2014, he left the fraud section for a partner position at Morrison & Foerster.
As the head of the Justice Department’s FCPA team, Duross was known to his associates as a prosecutor through and through, and he jokes that he left private practice for the government as soon as he paid off his student loans.
“He's the kind of guy who lives and breaths being a prosecutor, and, in particular, loves trying cases,” said Mark Mendelsohn, Duross’s predecessor and former boss.
Duross was promoted to temporarily lead the anti-corruption unit in April 2010, after Mendelsohn left the job to become a partner at Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison. Duross took over the post on a permanent basis in September 2010.
Duross's promotion came at a time when the fraud section was being changed by then-new criminal division chief Lanny Breuer, an appointee of US President Barack Obama. Breuer pushed out much of the old guard who had fostered Duross's career, including fraud section chief Steve Tyrrell and fraud section principal deputy chief Paul Pelletier. Like Duross, both Tyrrell and Pelletier had come up through the US Attorney's Office in the Southern District of Florida. Breuer hired new prosecutors for the criminal division, many with Ivy League pedigrees and experience in New York, where Breuer once served in the district attorney's office.
At the same time, Breuer promoted some of the younger prosecutors, such as Duross, who had deep credibility in the section. But Duross remained under pressure from the so-called "front office" of political appointees, led by Breuer, who instituted layers of new reviews for trial attorneys going about what used to be routine business of depositions and filings. Many of the old guard felt the reviews were micromanaging; Duross's job was to bridge both worlds.
Duross also came under pressure in the courtroom, where in 2011 many of his unit's FCPA cases hit major turbulence. In November 2011, Judge Howard Matz in Los Angeles overturned the FCPA convictions of California-based Lindsey Manufacturing Company and two of its executives, citing prosecutor misconduct.
The Justice Department had easily won the conviction of the electrical tower manufacturing company earlier that year, with a jury deliberating less than a day to return guilty verdicts. Fraud section lawyers at the time felt that Matz had unfairly singled out trial attorney Nicola Mrazek, who was highly regarded within the section, for misconduct in his 1 December written ruling.
The next month in Houston, Duross himself joined Mrazek in the courtroom for a related trial of a former manager for Swiss engineering company ABB, John O'Shea. Multiple trials had left the FCPA unit spread thin in 2011 and 2012. By trying the case alongside Mrazek, Duross showed support for his section.
Nevertheless, a skeptical US District Judge Lynn Hughes acquitted O'Shea from the bench before the case even went to the jury. Mrazek left the courtroom after his ruling fighting back tears.
Then, in February 2012, US District Judge Richard Leon in Washington, DC, granted a government request to dismiss the high-profile FCPA Gabon sting case, in which 22 military and law enforcement products brokers were charged with trying to bribe the defence minister of Gabon. In reality, the deal was a fictional FBI sting operation completed with recorded phone calls as evidence. The dismissal of the high-profile case – coming after the US failed to win convictions in two trials of defendants – was a heavy blow to Duross and the FCPA unit. As Just Anti-Corruption reported, the case never recovered from a ruling from Leon that prosecutors could not present evidence about the state of mind of the defendants.
“I thought long and hard about each one of these cases – what went well, what didn't go well,” Duross said at an American Bar Association conference in Miami in March 2012. “One of the takeaways, at least for me personally ... was for the most part it's not so much about the FCPA as a statute." The judges in each failed case had other reasons for dismissing the cases that had little to do with the foreign bribery charges themselves.
After working at Kirkland & Ellis for five years, Duross began his career in public service as an assistant US attorney in the Southern District of Florida in 2001. During his tenure in Miami, Duross handled a diverse caseload, prosecuting everything from narcotics cases to securities fraud. Ultimately, Duross was promoted to head the office's major crimes section. Joel Robrish, a white-collar defence attorney in Miami, remembers Duross as a no-nonsense prosecutor. The two lawyers squared off against each other during the prosecution of former Peruvian presidential candidate, Jorge Luis Bustamante. Ultimately, the prosecution team brought charges against Bustamante's wife, alleging she was a co-conspirator in her husband’s fraud scheme. After a heavily litigated trial, Bustamante pleaded guilty in 2006 to conspiring to commit credit card fraud and launder money, and his wife pleaded guilty to using unauthorised access devices. Bustamante was sentenced to 40 months in prison and was eventually deported, while his wife was given two years of probation.
"He's an extremely aggressive prosecutor," said Robrish, who is a solo practitioner. "But I think that in his job, he'll probably do great, because they need aggressive prosecutors."
Duross grew up in Michigan, where his family still lives. He went to the University of Michigan for his undergraduate studies and earned his law degree from the school in 1996.
Fraud section early days
Duross joined the fraud section at the end of 2006 and was immediately given a high-profile case, becoming the department's lead prosecutor on the prosecution of former US Representative William Jefferson. Former fraud section chief Steven Tyrrell said he and Mendelsohn put Duross on the high-profile and politically delicate Jefferson case because they immediately trusted in Duross's abilities.
"Jefferson was an extremely important case, and I wanted to put a top-notch person on the case," Tyrrell said.
Jefferson was found guilty on 11 corruption charges related to his role in brokering deals for American businesses in West Africa and was sentenced to 13 years in prison. But jurors acquitted Jefferson of the FCPA charges brought against him.
Duross handled a large caseload as a trial attorney in fraud section, working on diverse enforcement areas like the FCPA, healthcare fraud and securities fraud. According to Tyrrell, who is now the co-chair of the white-collar defence and investigations group at Weil Gotshal & Manges, Duross quickly became a leader in the section. "He's the kind of guy that doesn't require a lot of supervision, because he's smart, works hard and has very good judgment," Tyrrell said. Duross eventually transitioned from a general caseload to working exclusively on FCPA cases. He became an assistant chief on the FCPA team in October 2008.
Duross was also involved in the prosecution of Alcatel executive Christian Sapsizian. Sapsizian was sentenced to 30 months in prison for FCPA violations in September 2008. Roy Kahn, a solo practitioner in Miami who represented Sapsizian, said that some prosecutors can be less than truthful; not so with Duross. "He was very upfront, very straight," Kahn said. "He's a man of his word." Mendelsohn said that two of Duross's greatest strengths were his easy-going demeanor and his ability to work with other people. “He is the ultimate team player,” Mendelsohn said.
Legacy and departure
Mendelsohn, in an interview from 2010, said he expected Duross to continue the strong FCPA enforcement as head of the unit. “I know he’s committed to continuing a lot of the things we've had underway since I was there,” Mendelsohn said. “Things likes increased prosecution of individuals, more trials, strategically going after certain industries. I'm sure one of the things that he’ll be looking to do is make sure that the regulated community understands that there’s not going be any let up in the FCPA.”
As FCPA unit chief, Duross was instrumental in producing the first comprehensive guidance for complying with the 1977 foriegn bribery statute. The Resource Guide to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, as it was called, was released in November 2012.
Duross's departure from the fraud section in January 2014 sparked an exodus of experienced prosecutors, among them Adam Safwat, Kathleen Hamann, Joey Lipton, Stephen Spiegelhalter and Glenn Leon. In March 2015, Duross's longtime colleague and friend, James Koukios, a former senior deputy chief in the fraud section, joined Duross at Morrison & Foerster.