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Latin America

It took the DEA 37 days to bust Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's nephews

For the first time, prosecutors revealed details of how informants helped capture Efraín Campo Flores and Franqui Flores de Freitas for drug trafficking.
26 Jul 2016 – 3:41 PM EDT

It was like something out of a Hollywood movie: two close relatives of Venezuela's presidential family were tailed and eventually caught for drug trafficking. After six meetings over the course of 37 days in Honduras, Venezuela and Haiti, the DEA had enough evidence to put real-life handcuffs on the nephews of Cilia Flores, President Nicolás Maduro's wife.

The arrests of Efraín Antonio Campo Flores and Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas are detailed in documents made public last week by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. They include detailed statements made to the DEA after their arrest in Haiti, as well as photographs and 32 recordings made from Oct. 4 to Nov. 10 of meetings between the cousins and DEA informants.

The cousins have pleaded not guilty in court in New York. Their lawyers have sought to have their “confessions” to the DEA thrown out, arguing that the statements were not properly obtained after the pair were arrested.

THE CONTACT


The first recorded meeting was held on the Honduran resort island of Roatán. Campo and Flores – driven by the desire to get rich, according to their statements – contacted a man to bring cocaine shipments aboard legal flights from Caracas. The cousins planned to use their connections to avoid detection by authorities. They didn't know that the man, confined to a wheelchair and nicknamed “El Sentado” – the sitter – was a DEA confidential informant identified only as CW1, a one-time trafficker who cooperated with U.S. authorities in exchange for a reduced sentence.

The informant told the DEA he had a couple of Venezuelans, who flew on private airplanes, ready to be taken down.

Campo told the informant that he would handle the deal from Venezuela, and he and Flores would be at the airport to supervise loading of the cocaine aboard the airplane. He boasted the plane would not be tracked because “it would leave like … someone from our family was aboard.”

BODYGUARDS TO HELP LOAD THE DRUGS


Flores added that his bodyguards knew about the drug shipments and would help him to load the cocaine aboard the airplane.

The cousins were always confident that their presidential surname would open doors for the smuggling operation, according to court documents. They insisted they didn't need contacts within the Venezuelan military or police, often accused of direct involvement in drug trafficking.

Campo and Flores met three times in late October 2015 in Caracas with their presumed partners in the smuggling operation. One of the cousins said the deal was sealed in a Thai restaurant in the El Tolón shopping mall in Caracas.

During one of the Caracas meetings, Campo said that the first shipment could be ready in “a couple of days” and that his supplier had assured him the quality of the drug would be “the best you can get.” The supplier was El Flaco – the thin man – who got the cocaine from Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas in neighboring Colombia, according to the defendants.

The next day the informants received a photo of Campo handling a package containing “one kilo” of “product.” The cousins reported that the cocaine was 95 to 97% pure, judging by its smell, appearance and texture.

INCRIMINATING EVIDENCE


Each meeting produced an audio recording plus three to seven videos, according to the court documents. Authorities also intercepted telephone calls and emails.

The would-be smugglers eventually settled on the route the cocaine would follow, flight plans, participants, the distribution of the money and smuggling the drugs to Mexico and the United States. The distribution in several U.S. cities was to be handled by El Mexicano, another DEA informant.

During their second-to-the-last meeting in Honduras, Campo and Flores promised that the first cocaine shipment would leave Venezuela on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015.

On the morning of Nov. 10, Cilia Flores' nephews and four other men, including pilots, flew on a private jet to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where confidential witness CS1 was to hand over $5 million. They met in a restaurant near the airport, a few blocks from the U.S. embassy.

Campo and Flores confirmed the drugs would be shipped in five days. CS1 went to the bathroom, and Haitian counter-drug agents (BLTS by its French initials) and the DEA burst into the room to handcuff the suspects.

ON THE DEA PLANE

After Haiti agreed to their extradition, Campo and Flores were put aboard a DEA airplane, where agent Sandalio González read them their Miranda rights. They both agreed to talk during separate interviews aboard the flight to New York, where they were charged.

When González showed Campo the photo showing a man handling the one-kilo package of cocaine and asked who it was, the Venezuelan answered. “That's me,” according to court documents. Asked what the package contained, he replied, “You know what it is.”

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