Guam Football Association President Richard Lai, 55, pleaded guilty to criminal corruption charges in connection with accepting and paying bribes to soccer officials.
Lai pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud and one count of failing to disclose foreign bank accounts, according to federal prosecutors in New York, who said the crimes were in connection with nearly $1 million in bribes received by Lai.
In a written statement announcing the guilty plea, prosecutors said Lai received $100,000 in bribes in 2011 from an AFC official, who was running for the FIFA presidency at the time, in exchange for Lai’s vote and support.
Lai also admitted to receiving more than $850,000 in bribes between 2009 and 2014 from soccer officials in the AFC region, in exchange for using his influence to advance their interests and helping those officials find other officials who could be bribed, according to prosecutors.
He will pay more than $1.1 million in forfeiture and penalties, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York announced Friday.
“Today’s guilty plea … reaffirms the dedication of IRS Criminal Investigation to use our financial investigative expertise to uncover corrupt schemes and illicit payments involving FIFA officials,” said R. Damon Rowe, special agent-in-charge with the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation in Los Angeles.
The Pacific Daily News on Friday contacted Cheri Stewart, executive director of the Guam Football Association.
She said that the GFA would refrain from comment, and a public statement would be available on Monday or Tuesday.
Lai is the son of Shirley Lai, who founded Shirley’s Coffee Shop on Guam in 1983. Lai assisted in expanding the Shirley’s chain of restaurants to multiple locations, including two on Saipan. Lai’s brothers, George and Peter Lai, founded wholesale distribution company Quality Distributors and serve as company president and vice president.
Lai has served uninterrupted as the president of the Guam Football Association since 2001. As president, Lai voted in FIFA presidential elections.
In 2007, Lai was elected to the Asian Football Confederation Executive Committee, which represents the most populated of six worldwide confederations.
At the time, according to news files, “the significance of why Guam, the AFC’s smallest member, has a position in the highest AFC committee has attracted interest from other areas of the world.”
In 2013, as Guam was drawing attention and coverage from ESPN and FIFA, Lai was voted to the FIFA Audit and Compliance Committee, where he represented the Asian Confederation. In 2015, Lai was re-elected to the AFC executive committee for his third consecutive 4-year term. In 2016, FIFA senior technical development officer Jean-Marie Cruz described Guam as one of FIFA’s model “flagship programs.”
Lai also served periodically as a member and chair of the Asian Football Confederation Finance Committee. He’s currently a member of the AFC Marketing Committee and the FIFA Audit and Compliance Committee.
Lai’s guilty plea came as part of an investigation into international soccer corruption, according to the announcement by federal prosectors.
The ongoing investigation is being led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the FBI New York Field Office, and the IRS Criminal Investigation Los Angeles Field Office, the announcement said. Prosecutors in Brooklyn are being assisted by attorneys from the Justice Department’s Criminal Division in Washington, D.C., including from the Office of International Affairs, the Organized Crime and Gang Section, the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, and the Fraud Section.
The INTERPOL Washington office is also assisting, according to the announcement.