Nephews of Venezuelan first family fight U.S. drug charges

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and first lady Cilia Flores at a march in Caracas, Venezuela. Two Flores nephews are accused of conspiring to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the U.S.
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and first lady Cilia Flores at a march in Caracas, Venezuela. Two Flores nephews are accused of conspiring to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the U.S. AP

Defense attorneys for the nephews of Venezuela’s first lady increased their attack of the U.S. government, accusing it of trying to lure their clients into an international drug sting because of their family ties.

In a plea to a federal judge to toss out their clients’ alleged confessions, the lawyers for Efrain Campo, 29, and Francisco Flores, 30, slammed the U.S. government for basing large portions of its case on the word of “hopelessly corrupt informants.” They contend the government failed to properly inform their clients of their rights and never produced a single bit of the 800 kilograms of cocaine that was supposedly going to be distributed across the United States.

“The only evidence that remains is the meaningless word of a convicted liar who alleges he performed a dubious, non-scientific test on the substance,” wrote defense attorney Randall Jackson.

The latest briefings in a case that has exacerbated already tense relations between Venezuela and the United States were filed late Monday. The 55 pages largely rehash arguments made during a two-day suppression hearing earlier this month.

The trial is expected to begin Nov. 7.

The men’s aunt, Cilia Flores, is the wife of President Nicolas Maduro. She is a lawyer and influential congresswoman who is a former president of the National Assembly. She also served as the lawyer for then-jailed Hugo Chavez before he became president and led a socialist revolution in Venezuela.

According to alleged confessions, Campo said they planned to get the cocaine from Colombian rebels. Asked why he got involved in the deal, Flores reportedly said: “To make money.” Flores said the deal was worth $5 million, of which he’d expected to get $560,000, according to the statement.

“Campo further stated that he could’ve gotten the drugs out of the airport very easily because of who he was and because of the access he has at the airport,” U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents wrote in a report detailing the alleged confession. The airport referred to is the Simon Bolivar International Airport in Maiquetia, outside Caracas.

Jackson, who represents Campo, and attorney David Rody, who represents Flores, filed a 33-page brief arguing that the alleged confessions were improperly taken and recordings made by the confidential informants were tampered with.

They argue that the informants, a father-and-son duo, 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.

The government responded in a 22-page brief that the defendants had freely signed a waiver acknowledging they had read their rights and didn’t need a lawyer. They voluntarily confessed to their plans to smuggle hundreds of kilograms of cocaine into the United States and the recordings were properly made, prosecutors said.

“No recordings were destroyed,” Emil Bove, assistant U.S. attorney, wrote in the government’s motion.

U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty of the Southern District of New York is expected to side with the prosecution and deny the defense’s motion to suppress the evidence, according to David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor who oversaw the narcotics division at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami.

Weinstein said the judge likely would allow the jury to weigh the informants’ credibility, but he noted that the defense has raised significant questions that could hurt the prosecution during a trial.

“As a juror you have to decide whether or not they should be believed,” Weinstein said. “Someone can do exactly what these informants did and still tell the truth. However, are 12 jurors going to believe that given all the baggage these people have attached to them?”