A long-running federal fraud case involving Jeb Bush, a Nigerian billionaire, a South Florida pump company and allegations of fraud, bribery and suitcases full of cash has finally run its course, with the company accused of ripping off the government cleared of any liability.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case Monday, effectively ending the epic whistleblower saga in which the government had accused politically-connected Deerfield Beach-based Moving Water Industries of fraudulently obtaining more than $74 million in federal Export-Import Banks loans for Nigeria to buy MWI water pumps in 1992.
"MWI is a small family-owned business located in Deerfield Beach since 1926 and this case has been extremely costly in terms of legal fees incurred and lost business since 1998," said MWI vice president and general counsel William Bucknam. "We are looking forward to resuming our previous international business activities providing pumps to grow food, mitigate flood waters and provide a source of safe drinking water in remote villages without electricity."
Before his first campaign for governor in 1994, Jeb Bush spent several years marketing MWI pumps around the globe while his father was president of the United States. Allegations of wrongdoing surrounding the Nigerian deal dogged Bush's early political career, particularly his 1998 and 2002 gubernatorial campaigns.
At one point, the FBI investigated the matter and a grand jury was convened, though no indictments resulted. The government never accused Bush of wrongdoing, never deposed him or mentioned him in its civil complaint against MWI.
Former MWI employer Robert Purcell filed a sealed whistleblower complaint in 1989 alleging among other things that MWI failed to disclose that $28 million of $74 million loaned by the Export-Import Bank went to a Nigerian sales agent, Alhaji Indimi, who later became a billionaire oil baron. He alleged company officials and representatives traveled the globe carrying suitcases full of cash.
As Gov. Bush was running for re-election in 2002, federal prosecutors intervened in the case, filing a suit against MWI, which faced potential damages up to $223 million. The case dragged on until 2013 when a federal jury found MWI guilty of failing to properly report commissions and ordered damages of $22.5 million. After several appeals, the federal court's judgment of liability and fees against MWI were reversed.
"This has been one hell of a big coverup. It's a terrible injustice," said Purcell, 82, who has spent a quarter of his life pursuing the case and contends the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration helped protect Florida's former governor by restricting evidence and testimony.
--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times