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Nuns testify of robbery on highway in Miami

Two Venezuelan nuns testified Tuesday that they were robbed a year ago after they pulled off the highway when bandits told them there was something wrong with their car.

The two were driving along Interstate 95 with a missionary.

The nuns were testifying at the federal trial of a dozen young men charged with operating a tourist robbery gang. The federal government says the gang victimized people near Miami International Airport, even following them along major highways.

The gang targeted foreign tourists, especially women and the elderly, because they were less likely to return to this country to testify, authorities said.

But prosecutors are flying in victims from around the world to testify against the men, who face federal charges of racketeering and interfering with commerce.

Sisters Maria Iturbe and Beatriz Briceno Rodriguez said they were driving on the interstate when occupants of another car told them there was a problem with their rental car. They pulled off the highway, and the bandits took their money, including some they planned to use to buy toys for orphans.

Sister Iturbe told Assistant U.S. Attorney Monique Roth that she saw the bandits' license plate.

"We said it over and over and over again," she said through an interpreter. She finally wrote the number on the back of rental car documents.

She was shown pictures, and identified defendant Sherman Douglas as the man who robbed her.

The men were indicted in 1996 in an investigation of more than 200 tourist robberies. They face federal charges related to about 50 of the holdups and could get 20 years to life if convicted.

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