- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) - The longtime former head of the Nicaraguan soccer federation who most recently was employed by FIFA pleaded not guilty to racketeering charges Wednesday after he became the last of seven men extradited after their arrests in Zurich last year.

Julio Rocha, 65, entered the plea in Brooklyn federal court through his lawyer, William Sullivan.

Rocha was the last of seven men, including two FIFA vice presidents, to be extradited after a raid last May in Zurich exposed what officials described as a sprawling bribery scheme that had infested the governing body of international soccer. Six were extradited to the United States and one man was extradited to Uruguay.

Rocha was freed on $1.5 million bail after agreeing to submit to electronic monitoring and stay at a Florida residence until trial. Friends and family, some in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas, were expected to sign his bond, posting homes, stock and cash to back it up. He also was banned from communicating with various FIFA entities or their affiliates.

Outside court, Rocha’s attorney declined comment.

The bespectacled defendant, wearing a black coat, spoke to Magistrate Judge Robert M. Levy through an interpreter, asking at one point if he had to return to New York for future court proceedings. Levy told him the case was based there so he would.

“You must be a little tired,” Levy told him after he was accompanied on his flight from Zurich to New York by U.S. law enforcement officials.

Rocha was the longtime Nicaraguan soccer federation president before leaving in 2012. That was when FIFA hired him as a Panama-based development officer for Central America.

Rocha’s final appeal against a U.S. extradition request was rejected by Switzerland’s supreme court on May 9.

A Brooklyn indictment said Rocha received a $100,000 bribe from sports marketing company Traffic linked to the sale of marketing rights for Nicaragua’s qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup.

The indictment alleged $150,000 was wired in May 2011 from a bank in Miami to an account in Rocha’s name at a bank in Madrid, Spain. He kept $100,000 and gave $50,000 to another sports official who was not identified, authorities alleged.

Rocha is among more than 40 soccer and marketing officials and marketing agencies to have been indicted or to have pleaded guilty in the United States since charges were unsealed in May 2015. The scandal initially left FIFA in turmoil.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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