CONCACAF accuses vendor of paying kickbacks in $50 mln U.S. lawsuit

(Updates with comment from lawyers for Webb and Sanz) By Nate Raymond NEW YORK, Dec 22 (Reuters) - CONCACAF, the governing body for soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean, is suing a California travel company for $50 million, saying it paid kickbacks to two of CONCACAF's former executives, including its former president, Jeffrey Webb. CONCACAF sued Cartan Tours Inc in federal court in Los Angeles on Monday, saying the company secretly paid off Webb and Enrique Sanz, who served as CONCACAF's secretary general until he was fired in August. As a result, the company secured a lucrative deal to provide travel and event planning services, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit said Webb and Sanz awarded Cartan Tours the exclusive deal even though the company lacked expertise to provide the level of services CONCACAF previously had enjoyed. CONCACAF said it discovered the alleged scheme after Webb, who also served as FIFA's former vice president, was arrested in May in Switzerland along with six other soccer officials. The arrests were part of a wider U.S. probe of bribery and kick-back-related offenses that has rocked the sport's world governing body. CONCACAF said in a statement on Tuesday the complaint "sends a strong message that CONCACAF will seek restitution and other damages from those who cause harm to the Confederation, no matter the person or organization." A woman who answered the phone at Manhattan Beach, California-based Cartan Tours Inc said the company would likely not comment. Lawyers for Webb and Sanz, who has not been criminally charged, declined comment. According to the lawsuit, after Cartan was awarded the deal, it treated CONCACAF as a "proverbial cash cow," inflating charges, overstaffing events and charging CONCACAF an 18 percent management fee on top of every dollar it spent on events. "There is only one reason Cartan was able to continue this scheme: it had a secret deal with Webb and Sanz to pay them off," the lawsuit said. The lawsuit came nearly three weeks after the U.S. Justice Department unveiled a new set of charges in its investigation of corruption at FIFA. The most recent indictment charges 16 people over bribery schemes for marketing and broadcasting rights, including soccer bosses from across South and Central America. In total, 41 individuals and entities have been charged in the United States in connection with the corruption probe. Fourteen defendants, including Webb, have pleaded guilty. (Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Dan Grebler and Sandra Maler)