New York: Venezuelan First Lady’s Nephews Sentenced to 18 Years for Alleged Drug Trafficking

The two men were arrested on November 10, 2015 in what the defense has argued was a politically-driven DEA sting operation.

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In this courtroom sketch, a U.S. marshal stands guard in the background as defense attorney John Reilly, left, Francisco Flores, center in blue shirt, Efrain Campos, second from right, and defense attorney Rebekah Poston make an initial appearance in Manhattan federal court on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015. (Elizabeth Williams/AP)
In this courtroom sketch, a U.S. marshal stands guard in the background as defense attorney John Reilly, left, Francisco Flores, center in blue shirt, Efrain Campos, second from right, and defense attorney Rebekah Poston make an initial appearance in Manhattan federal court on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015. (Elizabeth Williams/AP)
By Lucas Koerner
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Philadelphia, December 15, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The nephews of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s wife and former congresswoman Cilia Flores were sentenced to eighteen years imprisonment by a New York federal court Thursday on drug conspiracy charges.

Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas (32) and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores (31) were arrested by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) during a sting operation in Haiti on November 10, 2015.

Despite the two cousins forming part of a group of six Venezuelans who traveled to Port Au Prince on a private jet with the alleged attention of carrying out a drug deal, only Flores de Freitas and Campo Flores were detained by US authorities.

No investigation was opened into the owner of the aircraft, Marco Uzcategui, a Venezuelan businessman who runs a civilian aviation company in Florida state, known as Coinspectra. Uzcategui previously served as a substitute director in Venezuela’s Intergovernmental Decentralization Fund after being nominated by the opposition-aligned Association of Mayors of Venezuela.

Flores de Freitas and Campo Flores were convicted in November 2016 by a Manhattan jury of plotting to import around 800kg of cocaine into the United States, though no drugs were ever found.

Prosecutors said the cousins had made contact with a DEA informant with the aim of securing assistance in transporting the contraband to the US. Nonetheless, during the trial, the informants admitted to lying to federal authorities about criminal activities undertaken during DEA missions, including abusing narcotics and hiring prostitutes.

The Southern New York Federal District Attorney’s office had requested that the Flores cousins be sentenced to thirty years, alleging that the two men were involved in a far-reaching and violent criminal gang network, and that profits from the drug deal were destined to shore up the Maduro administration.

“The defendants embarked on this path for the stated purpose of helping their family maintain political control in Venezuela, through a regime controlled by relatives currently engaged in ‘a fundamental assault on the freedoms of the Venezuelan people,’ and to enrich themselves while their countrymen starved in the streets,” prosecutors argued.

No evidence has been presented to suggest that the alleged conspiracy involved other actors within the Venezuelan state and Maduro government. Neither cousin has ever occupied any high-level government posts.

The defense, for its part, pushed for a sentence shorter than ten years, arguing that prosecutors had proven no more than the “bungling discussions of a drug plot that could never actually have been executed.”

Ultimately Judge Paul Crotty opted to sentence the cousins to eighteen years, acknowledging that the men were not, in his words, “the most astute drug dealers”.

"What moves me is that Mr. Campo Flores and Mr. Flores de Freitas were perhaps not the most astute drug dealers who ever existed. They were in over their heads,” he declared.

The Maduro administration has yet to issue a public statement in response to the sentencing.

The Flores cousins figure among a host of senior Venezuelan officials and their relatives who have been accused of drug links by the US government.

In February, Vice President Tareck El Aissami was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department over drug trafficking allegations, despite no evidence being presented to bolster the accusation.