Bruce Bagley, a 73-year-old University of Miami professor who is one of the most distinguished academic experts on the Andean drug trade, was accused Monday of a conspiracy to launder millions in dirty money from Venezuela.
Federal prosecutors in New York announced that Bagley was arrested in Miami and charged with money laundering after he opened bank accounts "for the express purpose of laundering money for corrupt foreign nationals,” according to a statement by federal prosecutors in the Southern District New York.
"Bagley, an American professor, contributed to the success of illegal activity overseas, carried out against the Venezuelan people, by facilitating access to illicitly obtained funds, and profiting from his role in the crime," they said.
Bagley is a highly respected, longtime UM international relations professor and author of many books on the Andes, including 'Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime, and Violence in the Americas Today.'
For decades, Bagley was one of the most oft-quoted media experts on the drug war and other security issues such political corruption in the hemisphere, with a special focus on Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico.
“Today’s charges of money laundering and conspiracy should serve as an object lesson for Bruce Bagley, who now faces a potential tenure in federal prison,” Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in the statement.
Bagley first became involved in the Andes as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960s. He is a highly sought after expert witness in complicated court cases involving drug trafficking, as well as an advisor to U.S. intelligence agencies and the U.S. military Southern Command based in Miami.
The University of Miami said in a statement after his arrest that Bagley had been placed on administrative leave. "As this is a personal matter in an ongoing investigation, the University has no further comment at this time," it added.
Bagley appeared in federal court in Miami on Monday, where a magistrate judge set a $300,000 bond.
“The arrest came as a complete surprise to everyone and we are just now reviewing the indictment,” Bagley’s lawyer, Daniel Forman, told Bloomberg. “Based on my extensive knowledge of Dr. Bagley, both professionally and personally, I am confident he will be vindicated at the end of the day.”
Friends and colleagues expressed shock and disbelief that such serious charges could be brought against someone with such an impeccable academic record. While they indictment contained incriminating details, those who know Bagley said it didn't fit the person they knew.
"Sham" bank account
According to the federal indictment, Bagley in November 2016 opened up a bank account on behalf of a company he owned. In 2017, the account allegedly began receiving monthly deposits of “hundreds of thousands of dollars from bank accounts located in Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.”
Prosecutors say Bagley got $200,000 from each deposit, and would withdraw 90 percent in the form a cashier’s check — payable to an unnamed Colombian who told Bagley the money was the “proceeds from foreign bribery and embezzlement stolen from the Venezuelan people.”
Bagley entered into “sham contracts” to cover his tracks for the suspicious transaction, prosecutors said in the statement. After the account was shut down because of “suspicious activity in December 2018, Bagley opened up a new account to launder the money, taking 10 percent as his cut.”
Bagley is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and two counts of money laundering. He faces up to 20 years in prison on each count.