U.S. jury to deliberate in drug trial of nephews of Venezuelan first lady

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 18, 2016 10:24 AM

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jury deliberations were to begin on Friday in the U.S. trial of two nephews of Venezuela's first lady accused of trying to engineer a multi million-dollar drug deal to obtain the cash to help their family stay in power.

U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty in Manhattan began delivering instructions to the jury that will decide the fate of Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, nephews of Cilia Flores, the wife of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Both men are charged with conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States and have pleaded not guilty. If convicted, they face up to life in prison.

Flores de Freitas, 31, and Campo Flores, 30, were arrested in Haiti in November 2015 and flown to the United States following a sting operation orchestrated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Prosecutors said the two men plotted to use a Venezuelan airport's presidential hangar to send 800 kgs of cocaine to Honduras for shipment into the United States.

Prosecutors said recordings of meetings with two DEA informants showed the nephews wanted the cash to counteract money they believed the United States was supplying to the opposition before Venezuela's December 2015 National Assembly elections.

Maduro's Socialist Party lost its parliamentary majority after the election.

Defense lawyers said neither of them intended for any drugs to be shipped into the United States.

David Rody, a lawyer for Flores de Freitas, told jurors on Thursday that much of the evidence came from a paid DEA informant posing as a Mexican cartel member who later pleaded guilty to lying to the government to conduct drug trafficking himself.

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The informant, Jose Santos-Pena, subsequently testified at trial pursuant to a cooperation agreement that would have helped him avoid a lengthy prison sentence if he testified truthfully.

But after defense lawyers presented evidence they said showed he was lying on the stand and orchestrating drug deals from prison, prosecutors took the unusual step of announcing that Santos-Pena's cooperation deal would be ripped up.

"Why did we have this spectacle of this man lying to you in court?" Rody said in his closing argument. "And I think the reason is actually quite simple. It's because they needed him."

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)