Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Venezuelan found guilty in cash-filled suitcase case

A wealthy Venezuelan businessman was found guilty in federal court in Miami on Monday of acting as an illegal foreign agent sent to the United States to cover up his government's role in a political scandal involving a cash-stuffed suitcase smuggled into Argentina.

During the eight-week trial prosecutors argued that Key Biscayne resident Franklin Duran, 41, was working for Venezuela's intelligence service when he sought to cover up the secret donation of oil money from the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chavez to the campaign of Argentina's president, Cristina Fernandez.

The U.S government was initially accused of politicizing the case in an effort to embarrass Chavez, a vocal leftist critic of the Bush administration.

Opponents of Chavez say the case provides valuable insight into his government's illegal use of income from the country's state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA, to help political allies.

The charges relate to an incident in August 2007 when Duran's friend and business partner, Guido Antonini, 46, also of Key Biscayne, was stopped by a customs agent in Argentina after arriving on a private jet chartered by PDVSA. He was briefly detained after almost $800,000 in cash was found in his luggage.

Duran and four other defendants were later accused of arranging a series of meetings in the Miami area to get Antonini to lie about the origin of the cash. Unbeknownst to the defendants, Antonini wore an FBI recording device at meetings.

Venezuelan and Argentina officials have angrily denied the money was a political contribution, though they have failed to explain why the cash was on the plane. While the trial did not provide proof that the money was intended for Argentina's president, prosecutors put on a strong case linking Duran to several top Chavez officials.

Prosecutors were aided by three of the defendants who pleaded guilty and testified against Duran. One of them, Duran's business partner, Carlos Kauffmann, told jurors that the Venezuelan intelligence service sought their help to silence Antonini in return for government favors. Kauffmann admitted that he and Duran had over the years made tens of millions of dollars on public contracts after paying kickbacks to government officials.

"There is no mystery as to what happened in this case," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Shipley said in his closing arguments. Duran "came here on a mission, a mission to hide the source of the money," he said.

Duran attorney Ed Shohat argued in court that Duran was simply trying to help his friend while protecting his own legitimate oil business. He denounced the case as "a political circus," and vowed to appeal the verdict.

Duran faces a maximum of 15 years in prison at his sentencing Jan. 12.

Venezuelan found guilty in cash-filled suitcase case 11/03/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 3, 2008 10:47pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Danny Rolling killed five in Gainesville 27 years ago this week

    Criminal

    The following story appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on October 26, 2006, the day after Danny Rollings was put to death. Also included are photos covering the period from the time of the murders to the day of Rollings execution.

    Rolling Executed

  2. Hernando commissioners propose tax-rate reduction as budget talks continue

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — The typical budget battle between the Hernando County Commission and Sheriff Al Nienhuis has largely been averted this summer, except for a dust-up over how the sheriff has accounted for federal inmate money. But a minor skirmish did break out this week.

    Hernando County Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes has suggested a small rollback in the proposed property tax rate for the 2017-18 fiscal year and proposes that it be equally shared by the county's operations and the sheriff.
  3. Trigaux: As Florida seeks top 10 status as best business state, red flag rises on workforce

    Business

    In the eternal quest to appeal more to business than other states, Florida's managed to haul itself out of some pretty mediocre years. After scoring an impressive 8 among 50 states way back in 2007, Florida suffered horribly during and immediately after the recession. Its rank sank as low as No. 30 only four years ago, …

    Florida's trying to make strides in preparing its high school and college graduates for the rapidly changing skill sets of today's workforce. But the latest CNBC ranking of the best and worst states for business gave Florida poor marks for education, ranking No. 40 (tied with South Carolina for education) among the 50 states. Still, Florida ranked No. 12 overall in the best business states annual ranking. [Alan Berner/Seattle Times]
  4. Florida: White man who killed black person to be executed

    State Roundup

    GAINESVILLE — For the first time in state history, Florida is expecting to execute a white man for killing a black person — and it plans to do so with help of a drug that has never been used previously in any U.S. execution.

    This undated photo provided by the Florida Department of Corrections shows Mark Asay. If his final appeals are denied, Asay is to die by lethal injection after 6 p.m. Thursday. Asay was convicted by a jury of two racially motivated, premeditated murders in Jacksonville in 1987.  [Florida Department of Corrections via AP]
  5. Ex-TPD sergeant LaJoyce Houston takes plea deal in stolen tax refund case

    Criminal

    TAMPA — LaJoyce Houston, a former Tampa police sergeant accused with her husband in a federal tax refund fraud scheme, has agreed to plead guilty to receiving stolen government property, court records state.

    Former Tampa police officers Eric and LaJoyce Houston walk into the Sam Gibbons U.S. District Courthouse on Oct. 28, 2015, to face charges relating to stolen identity tax refund fraud. [SCOTT KEELER    |      TIMES
 ]