Cooperation nets shorter sentences for local businessmen implicated in cargo-fixing case

Two executives of a local shipping company who colluded with competitors to raise the cost of cargo shipments will receive shorter prison sentences after the pair gave significant help to federal prosecutors investigating at least one other accomplice. Honduran businessman Roberto Dip and a Kenner man named Jason Handal had initially been given sentences of 18 months and 15 months, respectively, at a hearing in June. However, last month, prosecutors at U.S.

District Court in Miami filed a document stipulating that Dip and Handal "had provided substantial assistance in investigating or prosecuting" another unspecified person tied to the case. U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles on Friday then ordered that Dip's sentence be reduced to one year and Handal's to eight months, and both men were given until Feb.

18 to surrender, records show. Dip had served more than five months in jail after his arrest in the case in June 2018. Given that federal defendants are usually eligible for release after serving 85% of their sentences, Dip is likely facing the prospect of doing less than five more months in custody.

Both he and Handal plan to continue running the company, Dip Shipping Co., after they're done serving their punishments. "Mr. Dip and Mr.

Handal are very grateful for this result and look forward to getting back to work soon," their attorneys, Joel Denaro and William Barzee, said in a statement.

A Honduran businessman whose company has offices in New Orleans received an 18-month prison sentence on Tuesday for pleading guilty to illegal...

According to federal agents, Dip and leaders of other shipping companies met in San Pedro Sula, Honuras, in early 2014 to hash out a plan to raise prices for their U.S-based customers to ship cargo to Honduras and other places in order to keep pace with increasing operating costs. Federal law prohibits such price-fixing deals. However, authorities said, emails among Dip, his employee Handal, and others showed the companies enacted the agreement and kept it in place until at least early 2015.

Eventually, emails and audio recordings implicating Dip, Handal and others landed in the possession of the FBI in New Orleans, which was conducting a larger investigation into such deals. Officials arrested Dip and Handal while they traveled through Miami, where Dip Shipping Co. also has offices. Prosecutors soon followed up with charges against the pair.

The case was transferred from the federal courthouse in New Orleans to one in Miami, where Dip -- a legal U.S. resident -- and Handal pleaded guilty in November 2018. The company itself also later pleaded guilty to violating antitrust laws and paid a fine of £488,250. While court records don't identify the accomplice whom Dip and Handal cooperated against, the federal government announced in October that Francis Alvarez of Houston-based Servicios Hondurenos had pleaded guilty to a role in the wider price-fixing plot.

Alvarez on Friday received a 10-month prison sentence, though prosecutors also filed papers requesting a reduction, citing her cooperation against others.

When he was arrested, Dip was a city councilman in La Ceiba, Honduras, and was also the president of a professional Honduran soccer team named Club Deportivo Social Vida.

The club is now owned and led by New Orleans businessman Omar Romero, whose holdings include a local radio station named La Calle 97.9 FM.

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