“I’ve seen how sometimes prosecutors can take advantage of people who are not well schooled in the FCPA space. And I’ve seen how companies and individuals can benefit from having really good counsel.”
The Taliban had the upper hand.
The year was 2010, and the federal government had lost a number of cases in which high ranking members of the Taliban, al-Qaida, and other terrorist groups held in Guantánamo Bay claimed they were wrongfully detained. Hoping to shift the tide, the Feds sought the help of experienced prosecutors, including Ephraim “Fry” Wernick, then an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia.
Wernick took evidence gathered by U.S. intelligence agents in foreign war zones, built a compelling story, and convinced the court that the prisoners should remain incarcerated. Among his victories: Wernick led the case against Khairullah Khairkhwa, a former Afghan governor and the highest-ranking member of the Taliban in U.S. custody at the time who would later be among the “Taliban Five” exchanged for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
It’s no wonder over the course of a career that included six years in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and five years in the DOJ Criminal Fraud’s elite Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) Unit, where he rose to Assistant Chief, Wernick would earn the reputation as a fixer.
“I’m known as someone you can hand really difficult matters to, and I’m going to find a solution, and do it quickly,” said Wernick, who recently joined V&E’s D.C. office as a partner in the firm’s Government Investigations and White Collar Criminal Defense practice.
Wernick’s skills and background make him a good match for V&E, where he is defending companies and individuals against government investigations into alleged violations of the FCPA, anti-money laundering statutes, the Bank Secrecy Act, International Traffic in Arms Regulations and other financial and corruption-related offenses. Many of V&E’s clients are multinational companies doing business in emerging markets where FCPA violations are a significant concern.
He is one of a handful of former federal prosecutors in private practice who has actually prosecuted violations of the FCPA. Having worked on the inside, he knows how the DOJ prioritizes and investigates cases involving alleged violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery laws.
“I helped supervise and train the prosecutors in the FCPA unit,” Wernick said. “I have unique skills and experience that are relevant to the FCPA landscape today.”
Managing complex FCPA prosecutions and resolutions
As Assistant Chief of the FCPA unit, Wernick led complex international investigations and prosecutions of multinational corporations and individuals, including high-level executives. He supervised four of the six largest-ever corporate FCPA resolutions. A number of the settlements he secured involved delicate negotiations with foreign officials.
“I flew 180,000 miles last year to coordinate prosecution at the highest levels with foreign governments,” Wernick said. “I had to shake their hands and say, ‘You can trust me, we can share the evidence. We’re going to treat you fairly. We’re going to solve a problem much faster and better together than if we did it apart.’”
In one of his most notable FCPA matters, Wernick served as the lead attorney in U.S. v. Rolls-Royce plc. The defendant, a multinational power systems manufacturer, was charged with conspiring to pay and launder over $80 million in bribes in six countries.
Wernick worked to secure an $880 million global resolution between DOJ, the UK Serious Fraud Office, Brazil, and Rolls-Royce that included the criminal prosecution of seven individuals.
“It was a signature case,” he said. “It gave me really good insight into how the UK enforces its Bribery Act, and the type of coordination that occurs in these global FCPA resolutions.”
In another high-profile matter, Wernick supervised an FCPA and money laundering investigation that included charges against two senior bank executives and an intermediary for their alleged role executing a multi-billion-dollar bribery and embezzlement scheme.
A 9/11 wake-up call
Born and raised in Dallas, Wernick was dubbed “Fry” by his fourth-grade baseball coach who couldn’t pronounce his given name, Ephraim. He excelled at sports, and was a three-year starter on the football team at Brown University, where he earned All-Ivy League and Academic All-Ivy League honors and was selected by his peers to be on Brown’s commemorative “Team of the 1990’s.”
He was a student at University of Texas Law School on Sept. 11, 2001 when al-Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide missions against the United States. That earth-shattering event, coupled with others that harmed many in Wernick’s community, influenced his decision to pursue a career in public service.
“I started thinking about being a federal prosecutor and taking on the cases I was reading about in the Wall Street Journal,” he said.
Wernick worked in private practice for five years and then made the leap to the U.S. Attorney’s office in D.C., where he spent the latter half of his tenure in the Office’s Fraud & Public Corruption Section. While there, he served on the prosecution team for the Office’s most significant corruption case, the largest campaign finance matter of its kind.
He became known as someone who could be entrusted with complex cases where others had faultered. That reputation followed him to the FCPA unit.
“Part of the struggle with FCPA cases is, white collar cases generally take a lot of time to develop and investigate. And when you add the international dimension, they take even longer,” Wernick said. “I was able to move cases along pretty quickly comparatively.”
Ready for new challenges
While he relished digging into cases in the FCPA unit, after five years, Wernick was ready for a change.
“I had done all that I had set out to accomplish in the government and it was time to do the next thing,” he said.
When Wernick started planning his next step, V&E was on a short list of law firms he considered. While working for the government he had sat across the table from and was impressed by V&E lawyers, including partners William Lawler and Matthew Jacobs.
He was aware that the firm was building up its White Collar team and had recently lured Ron Tenpas, who served as Assistant Attorney General for DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, Mike Dry, the former Deputy Chief of the Eastern District of Virginia’s Criminal Division and Jennifer Freel, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas.
Now settled into V&E, Wernick is ready to deploy his knowledge and skills in defending the firm’s clients.
“I’ve seen how sometimes prosecutors can take advantage of people who are not well schooled in the FCPA space,” he said. “And I’ve seen how companies and individuals can benefit from having really good counsel.”