[Ppnews] Avelino Gonzalez Claudio - Not Guilty Plea In 1983 Armed Robbery

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Feb 29 11:22:55 EST 2008



Not Guilty Plea In 1983 Armed Robbery


Courant Staff Writer

February 29, 2008

Avelino Gonzalez Claudio, a reputed member of the 
militant Puerto Rico independence group Los 
Macheteros, pleaded not guilty Thursday in U.S. 
District Court in Hartford to more than a dozen 
charges connected to the 1983 armed robbery of 
$7.1 million from the former Wells Fargo armored car depot in West Hartford.

Gonzalez, 65, a fugitive for more than 20 years, 
was captured in Puerto Rico by the FBI on Feb. 7. 
He is believed to have lived on the island since 
the robbery and, at least recently, was teaching 
at a private school under an assumed name.

After two brief court appearances on the island 
this month, a U.S. District judge in Puerto Rico 
ordered him transferred to Hartford, where he now 
is scheduled to stand trial for participating in 
what, in 1983, was the largest cash robbery in U.S. history.

He is accused of multiple counts of robbery by 
force of a federally insured bank, conspiracy to 
interfere with commerce by robbery, the 
interstate or foreign transport of stolen goods, 
and conspiracy against the United States.

Records seized from Los Macheteros in Puerto Rico 
more than two decades ago show that the group, 
which means machete wielders or cane cutters in 
Spanish, intended to use the money to further its 
armed struggle for independence from the U.S. and 
to support leftist insurgencies in Latin America.

Among other things, Los Macheteros took credit 
for blowing up 11 fighter jets at a National 
Guard air base and killing two sailors during an 
attack on a U.S. Navy bus. Both events took place in Puerto Rico.

Thursday, Gonzalez, a thin, ascetic-looking man 
with a graying beard and long brown hair, was 
escorted into a small Hartford courtroom in 
manacles and a bright orange prison jump suit. 
During the brief proceeding, he listened intently 
to a Spanish translator and quietly answered "not 
guilty" when asked for his plea to the charges.

He was one of more than a dozen Puerto Rico 
nationalists indicted in the spectacular 1983 
robbery, which was carried out with the support 
of the government of Cuba. Los Macheteros 
recruited a young man from Hartford, Victor 
Gerena, to obtain employment at Wells Fargo and 
act as inside man during the robbery.

Afterward, the group moved Gerena and the cash to 
Mexico City hidden behind false walls in a motor 
home. A former Cuban diplomat has said Gerena 
later was flown to Cuba after Cuban agents 
disguised him and provided him with a fraudulent 
Argentine passport. More than $2 million of the 
stolen cash went to Cuba with Gerena, according 
to the U.S. government and a former Cuban government source.

Gerena is one of about 90 U.S. fugitives believed 
to have been granted asylum by former Cuban President Fidel Castro.

With Gonzalez's capture, Gerena and Gonzalez's 
brother Norberto are the only suspects in the 
robbery who remain at large. Macheteros founder 
Filiberto Ojeda Rios died in a shootout with FBI 
agents in September 2005 at a home where he was 
hiding in the mountains of western Puerto Rico.

Several sources familiar with the radical 
independence movement in Puerto Rico have said 
Gonzalez held a senior position in Los Macheteros 
at the time of the robbery, an operation the 
group had code-named Aguila Blanca, or White 
Eagle. In addition, they said he was one of four 
Macheteros who drove Gerena to Mexico.

Contact Edmund H. Mahony at <mailto:emahony at courant.com>emahony at courant.com

Copyright © 2008, <http://www.courant.com/>The Hartford Courant

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