A federal grand jury on Tuesday indicted a former Fluor Corp. executive accused of accepting about $1.4 million in bribes from foreign companies seeking work on a giant Saudi Arabian petrochemical project.
Thomas A. Belt, a former contracts engineer for the Irvine engineering and construction firm, was charged with two counts of wire fraud. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and $2,000 in fines.
Belt, a resident of Indian Rocks Beach, Fla., allegedly accepted the bribes in exchange for passing secret bid information to subcontractors who wanted to work for Fluor Arabia, a joint venture of Fluor and the Saudi Petrochemical Co., according to the indictment.
After being awarded subcontracts for the project in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, the companies allegedly paid Belt in cash and by transferring money to a Liechtenstein bank account opened in the name of Fern E. Belt, Belt's wife, according to the indictment.
Belt, who could not be reached for comment, worked for Fluor from Oct. 31, 1980, until he was fired on Dec. 22, 1983, for fraud and breach of contract, according to court records.
"I think it would be inappropriate to comment on any charges against Mr. Belt," said Warren Ettinger, Belt's Los Angeles attorney. He said Belt is working somewhere in Florida and is "not going to run and hide."
Ettinger said Belt intends to surrender to U.S. marshals in the near future.
"The entire episode regarding Mr. Belt is extremely regrettable, but Fluor absolutely believes misconduct of this nature should be promptly exposed and brought to justice," David S. Tappan Jr., Fluor's chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement.
Tappan said the Belt episode is "an isolated incident in our experience."
In September, Fluor filed a $40-million civil suit against Belt, alleging that Belt not only accepted bribes but negotiated the sale of surplus Fluor equipment through a company created and controlled by Belt and his brother, who was not named in the suit.
The civil suit alleges that Belt's activities resulted in cost overruns of about $2 million for the Fluor Arabia subsidiary.
Fluor's suit contends that Belt funneled money through secret European bank accounts and used the funds to buy property in Florida. The civil action is still pending.