[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
By EDMUND H. MAHONY
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
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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