Venezuela first nephew: ‘I’ve been doing drug deals since I was 18’

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and first lady Cilia Flores earlier this year in Caracas, Venezuela.
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and first lady Cilia Flores earlier this year in Caracas, Venezuela. AP

The nephew of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and first lady Cilia Flores boasted in conversations with confidential informants that he’d been trafficking drugs since he was a teenager, according to secret recordings that were played in court Thursday.

In the conversations, Efrain Campo talked of his ability to acquire planes to transport drugs, negotiations with a French drug dealer and the comparative costs of doing business in Europe versus Central America.

“I’m 30 years old. I’ve been doing this work since I was 18,” Campo said, according to the recordings.

Several audio and video recordings of Campo’s dealings with confidential informants were played on the fourth day of the high-profile trial that allegedly links the family of the Venezuelan president and his wife to illicit drug trafficking.

Campo, 30, and his cousin Francisco Flores, 31, face charges that they conspired to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States. The recordings are key to the prosecution’s case that the defendants were not naive victims of a political scheme but willing and able drivers of a plan to exploit their political connections to carry off a $20 million cocaine deal that would help their aunt’s political campaign and strengthen the family’s power.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s confidential informant, Jose Santos Peña, returned to the stand Thursday to describe several of the audio and video recordings he’d made of meetings with the defendants last year in Venezuela. The defense charges that Santos has no credibility and is now in prison for lying to DEA agents about importing large quantities of drugs into the United States while working as an undercover informant.

Campo could be heard in one of the recordings saying he wanted to get started “immediately.” In another, he talked of having to schedule a meeting on a day he wasn’t working on his aunt’s campaign. He also raised the possibility of expanding the operation into Canada.

“We have a cousin who is a consul in Canada,” Campo said.

In a video, members of the jury could hear Campo snapping on latex gloves, which, Santos said, the defendant put on before presenting the alleged cocaine. Taken from waist level or lower, the video’s images were difficult to discern, shaky and with many moments blocked by a table. But Campo and Flores could be seen and heard. In one part, Campo can be seen picking up and handling a block of white powder.

“He asked one of his bodyguards for a switchbade to open the 1 kilo of cocaine,” Santos explained to the jury.

Santos detailed his nearly 30 years of experience as an international drug dealer working mostly in Mexico. He described how he himself abused cocaine and tested the quality of the cocaine by examining the color and smell. He used his fingers to release the drug’s natural oils.

“It was cocaine,” he told the jury. “And it was good quality.”

With court adjourned Friday for Veterans Day, the defense’s cross-examination of Santos, which began Thursday afternoon, will continue Monday. But defense attorney David Roday began laying the groundwork for arguing that Santos is corrupt and motivated by money.

Santos and his son, who is also an informant for the DEA, collected more than $1.2 million from the U.S. government for their undercover work. At the same time, they were doing drug deals on the side. They have since been convicted of conducting unauthorized drug trafficking while working for the DEA.

Roday acused Santos of exploring possible side drug deals in Venezuela while on the DEA mission. He peppered Santos with questions about an unauthorized man who Santos and his son brought with them to Venezuela without the DEA’s knowledge. Roday accused Santos of taking the man, Paul, to help with other drug deals and pointed out they had stayed in Venezuela for 10 days but had met with the defendants only four times in short meetings.

“Isn’t it true that one of the reasons you brought Paul was to investigate the possibility of doing other drug deals?” Roday asked.

Santos denied the charge, but Campo and Flores have accused him and other informants of luring them into a supposed drug deal with promises to supply the planes, the cocaine and the buyer. The defendants accuse the informants of destroying evidence that would have helped their case, including recordings where they explain they had no capacity to execute the plan.

Roday hammered at Santos’ credibility. He noted that Santos had lied to DEA agents for years about cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine drug deals he was conducting without their knowledge and then lied to federal prosecutors about taking Paul to the meetings with the defendants, which could have compromised the investigation.

“In the past I have. I’m not lying now,” Santos said. “I’m telling the truth.”