Lawyers for the nephews of the Venezuelan first lady charge that one of the U.S. government’s star witnesses is trafficking drugs from prison – which, if true, would be a clear violation of an agreement he signed with federal prosecutors as part of his work as a confidential source for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Defense attorney Randall Jackson told U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty of the Southern District of New York late Monday that he was prepared to introduce a recording of a phone call Jose Santos Peña made from prison with his son and other individuals who the defense contends are involved in the drug trade.
“The only reasonable inference is he’s engaged in drug trafficking from prison,” Jackson told the court.
It was the strongest day for Efrain Campo, 30, and his cousin Francisco Flores, 31, nephews of Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores, in the high-profile trial that started its second week Monday. The two cousins face life in prison on charges that they conspired to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States.
On Thursday, Santos gave damning testimony for the prosecution describing how he made several audio and video recordings of the defendants allegedly talking about and handling cocaine. In a video, members of the jury could hear Campo snapping on latex gloves, which, Santos said, the defendant put on before handling a white powder he said was cocaine.
By Monday, the defense had gained its footing. Santos admitted on the stand that an undercover informant originally had planned to help supply drugs for the defendants. David Roday, Flores’s defense attorney, peppered Santos with questions about the so-called “original plan,” charging that informants were going to also supply the airplane and that it was Santos who initiated discussions about bringing drugs into the United Santos. He pressed Santos to admit the defendants were “new” and inexperienced.
The prosecution sought more time to study the alleged prison recordings. Crotty directed the defense to provide prosecutors with transcripts, but said he was inclined to allow the evidence as it speaks to Santos’ credibility.
The two cousins contend they were “lured” into the drug deal by corrupt informants who said they would supply the planes, the cocaine and the buyer.
Santos sought to deflect the questions getting agitated about whether the cousins were experienced. He would only acknowledge that they were less experienced than him – a longtime drug dealer who had reached the highest levels of the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel. He said he didn’t remember whether informants would provide a plane and first denied that he initiated discussions about bringing drugs into the United States. He later acknowledged that he “brought up” the United States in talks.
The prosecution argues Campo and Flores sought to exploit their political connections to carry off a multimillion-dollar cocaine deal that would help their aunt’s political campaign and strengthen the family’s power.
Cilia Flores is a lawyer and leader in the Venezuelan General Assembly.
Jackson and Roday argued that Santos and his son, who is also an informant, were corrupt and motivated by money. The pair collected more than $1.2 million from the U.S. government for their undercover work while they continued to conduct unsanctioned major drug deals, for which they have since pleaded guilty.
Santos admitted to Roday that he was excited when learning that the targets were related to the first lady. He said he made more money for high profile arrests. He also said he hopes to a more reduced sentence for helping prosecutors in this case.
Santos also admitted lying repeatedly to the DEA informants about trafficking heroin on the side and failing to pay his taxes. Roday accused him of money laundering and lying under oath in a previous case that he was an informant.
“You lied in their faces,” Roday said.