WASHINGTON -- Three Venezuelans and an Uruguayan national were arrested last night and appeared in federal court in Miami today on charges of acting and conspiring to act as agents of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela within the United States, without prior notification to the Attorney General of the United States, as required by law, announced Kenneth L. Wainstein, Assistant Attorney General for Justice Department’s National Security Division, R. Alexander Acosta, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Jonathan I. Solomon, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Miami Field Office.
Charged in the complaint were defendants Moises Maionica, 36, Antonio Jose Canchica Gomez, 37, Rodolfo Edgardo Wanseele Paciello, 40, Franklin Duran, 40, and Carlos Kauffmann, 35. All have been arrested, except for defendant Antonio Jose Canchica Gomez, who remains at large. If convicted, the defendants face a statutory maximum penalty of ten (10) years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
According to the complaint filed in federal court, the defendants coordinated and participated in a series of meetings, beginning in August 2007, in South Florida with Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson to procure Antonini’s help in concealing the source of an intended $800,000 cash contribution to the political campaign of a candidate in the recent Argentine presidential election of Oct. 28, 2007. The last meeting took place on Dec. 11, 2007, when defendants Maionica, Duran, and another individual met with Antonini to discuss the creation of false documents in furtherance of the cover-up.
The events culminating in today’s criminal charges began on Aug. 4, 2007, when Antonini flew by Cessna Citation, bearing registration number N5113S, from Venezuela to Aeroparque Jorge Newbery in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The privately chartered aircraft had previously departed from Caracas Maiquetía International Airport in Venezuela, carrying eight passengers on board, including, among others, Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson. Upon arrival at Buenos Aires, Argentine Customs Service inspected the luggage offloaded from the Cessna Citation, and found approximately $800,000 in United States currency in luggage being carried by Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson. The Argentine authorities seized the money and Antonini returned to his South Florida home.
The complaint alleges that beginning in mid-August, 2007 and continuing through Dec. 11, 2007, the defendants and other participants in the conspiracy, acting as agents of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, sought to obtain the assistance of Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, a U.S. citizen who travels under both United States and Venezuelan passports, in concealing from the people of Argentina and others, the source and destination and the role of the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in the attempted delivery of the approximately $800,000.
During these meetings, the defendants told Antonini that various high-ranking Venezuelan government officials, including the Office of the Vice President of the Republic, members of the DISIP (Intelligence and Preventive Services Directorate), and a high-ranking official from the Justice Ministry of Venezuela, were aware of this matter. The defendants told Antonini that these funds had been destined for the campaign of a candidate in the Argentine presidential election of Oct. 28, 2007.
“The complaint filed today outlines an alleged plot by agents of the Venezuelan government to manipulate an American citizen in Miami in an effort to keep the lid on a burgeoning international scandal. These arrests should serve as a warning to other agents who operate illegally in America on behalf of foreign powers,” said Kenneth L. Wainstein, Assistant Attorney General for National Security.
U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta stated, “Today’s complaint alleges an effort by the agents of Venezuela to travel to the United States for the purpose coercing our citizens to help conceal the true nature of a growing international scandal. This is not the first time in recent years that we have charged individuals with operating illegally in South Florida as agents of foreign powers, and likely will not be the last. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to make prosecution of these cases one of our highest priorities.”
“The FBI is committed to working with our law enforcement and intelligence community partners to pursue those who act illegally as agents of foreign governments while in our country," said Acting Assistant Director Daniel L. Cloyd, FBI Counterintelligence Division.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Jonathan Solomon stated, “South Florida takes pride in the diversity of the people that have chosen to live here and we will always embrace those that come here to enjoy the freedom and opportunities that are available to us all. When unregistered foreign agents believe that they can operate on our soil with impunity and disregard for U.S. laws, it undermines the national security of our country and the safety of our citizens. This case demonstrates our resolve in ensuring that activities conducted in the United States are free from nefarious foreign influence.”
Mr. Acosta commended the investigative efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its work in this investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas J. Mulvihill and Senior Trial Attorney Clifford I. Rones, of the Counterespionage Section at the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
A copy of this press release may be found on the Justice Department’s website at www.usdoj.gov, or on the website of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov/ or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.