The nephews of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro thought they were above the law. They acted with “impunity” because of who they were and who their relatives were.
That was Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan F. Quigley’s final argument to a New York City jury Thursday as he asked them to convict Efrain Campo and Francisco Flores of conspiring to smuggle massive loads of cocaine into the United States.
The two cousins, whose aunt, Cilia Flores, is married to Maduro, were not naïve victims of a U.S. plot, but “eager and enthusiastic” partners who worked methodically for months on a complicated drug deal for which they sought to gain $20 million. The money was to help boost their aunt’s campaign and solidify the family’s power in the country.
“These are not little boys,” Quigley said. “These are 30-year-old men. One of them, Mr. Campo, is a lawyer.”
Campo and Flores face 10 years to life in prison if convicted of plotting to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States.
The lawyers wrapped up their closing arguments Thursday afternoon in the high profile case that allegedly links the first family of Venezuela to illicit drug trafficking. The case is being closely watched across the hemisphere because of its implications on U.S.-Venezuelan relations. A conviction will toughen U.S. charges that Venezuela is not living up to its international obligations to stop drug trafficking. An acquittal will strengthen Maduro’s claims that he is being victimized by a U.S. vendetta.
The prosecution argues the defendants sought to exploit their political connections by using the presidential hangar at Venezuela’s Simón Bolivar International Airport to dispatch massive loads of cocaine to the United States. The defense says their clients were “induced, tricked and trapped” by corrupt U.S. informants who took advantage of their gullible clients in hopes of a big payoff.
“Our government does many, many good things, but they overreached here,” defense attorney David Rody told the jury.
In his roughly hour-long closing, Quigley methodically walked the jury through Campo and Flores’s alleged confession and dozens of text messages and audio and video recordings that, he said, proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants were not only drug traffickers but knew that the drugs were headed to the United States.
The alleged confessions alone are enough to convict, Quigley said. In them, Campo said he was getting the drugs from leftist rebels in Colombia. Flores said he’d make $560,000 on the deal. Both acknowledged understanding that the drugs were headed to the United States. Campo said he didn’t emphasize that, according to the confession.
Quigley told the jury on Thursday to focus on Campo and Flores’s own words from dozens of recordings that allegedly document plans to fly the large drug shipment from the presidential hangar to a tourist island off the coast of Honduras, where it would be unloaded and sent on its way to Mexico and then the United States.
Campo boasted of having complete control of the Caracas airport. Even generals and colonels couldn’t interfere because of who he was, Campo said, according to the recordings.
“I’m 30 years old, 30 years old. I’ve been doing this work since I was 18,” Campo said in one recording.
The defense argued that it was only bluster and that their clients never had the intent or ability to pull off the deal. Rody argued that Campo and Flores were entrapped by some of the “worst, conniving, and deceitful informants” the jurors would ever see.
He pointed out how the prosecution gave up on its star confidential informant, Jose Santos Peña, and ripped up his cooperation agreement after the defense played recordings of him allegedly trafficking drugs from prison.
Prosecutors told the jury to worry less about what Santos said on the witness stand and focus more on the recordings, but Rody said it’s too late. They had ample opportunities to give up on Santos, but they didn’t because they have no case without him, Rody said.
It was Santos, a former member of the Sinaloa, Mexico, drug cartel, who talked about bringing the drugs to the United States. There is no evidence, Rody said, of a load of drugs going to the United States.
“He infects every aspect of this case,” Rody told the jury.
Santos was just one of several corrupt informants who either saw a big financial pay off or a reduced sentence for past misdeeds if they could help the U.S. Drug Administration convict a member of the Venezuelan first family, Rody said.
Rody said this is the most critical thing to ever happen in Campo and Flores’s lives.
He asked jurors if they would be comfortable basing any important decision in their own lives on the word of these informants.
“If you wouldn’t trust them in your own life, can you trust them in someone else’s life?”
The jury will begin deliberating Friday morning.