[Ppnews] Puerto Rico Nationalist, Long A Fugitive, Faces Sentence For 1983 Wells Fargo Robbery
Political Prisoner News
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Mon Nov 12 18:30:09 EST 2012
Puerto Rico Nationalist, Long A Fugitive, Faces Sentence For 1983
Wells Fargo Robbery
By EDMUND H. MAHONY, emahony at courant.com <mailto:emahony at courant.com>
The Hartford Courant
5:01 PM EST, November 12, 2012
Norberto Gonzalez-Claudio, a leader in the underground movement for
Puerto Rican independence, faces a five-year prison sentence Wednesday
for planning a notorious, $7 million armored car robbery in West
Hartford and eluding authorities for nearly three decades.
When the FBI captured Gonzalez in Puerto Rico last year, he was one of
two fugitive members of the militant group Los Macheteros still wanted
for the 1983 Wells Fargo robbery. The other, Victor Gerena of Hartford,
remains at large.
The Wells Fargo robbery, once the largest cash robbery in U.S. history,
is one of a string of violent acts attributed to Los Macheteros in the
1970s and 80s. The clandestine group, long a target of the FBI, claims
to be fighting a war for the independence of Puerto Rico, a U.S.
territory referred to as a Commonwealth.
A succession of popular votes in Puerto Rico on the island's political
status shows that more than 90 percent of voters are roughly split
between remaining a territory and trying to become a state, while fewer
than five percent support independence.
Documents seized from Los Macheteros by the FBI in the mid-1980s show
that Gonzalez, 66, was an influential member of the leadership
committees that set policy and planned operations for the organization
in the months before and after the robbery.
The records reflect the recruitment of Gerena as the inside man in the
robbery and how the organization later modified motor homes to smuggle
Gerena and the money to Mexico and, ultimately, to Cuba. The government
of Cuba, which provided money, training and weapons to Los Macheteros in
the 1970s and 1980s, kept about half the money and provided refuge to
Gerena, according to Cuban sources and material collected by the FBI.
Federal prosecutors are expected to ask Senior U.S. District Judge
Alfred Covello to impose the five-year sentence it has negotiated with
Gonzalez, saying the sentence is comparable to those imposed on others
previously convicted of planning the robbery. Prosecutors also said it
would have been difficult to try a case that has lain dormant for 29 years.
Gonzalez has pleaded guilty to federal charges related to a conspiracy
to steal the money and smuggle it out of the country. He pleaded guilty
as well to illegal possession of a machine gun.
The FBI discovered the weapon during a search of Gonzalez's home at the
time of his capture in the central Puerto Rico town of Cayey on May 10,
2011. With the machine gun were two revolvers, a variety of ammunition,
two bullet-proof vests, a bomb-making manual and documents entitled "Our
military strategy and tactics"; "military preparedness," "recruitment
policy," and "communications security."
In a sentencing memo filed in court, federal prosecutors said they would
have argued, had the case gone to trial, that Gonzalez helped plan, but
not carry out, the Wells Fargo robbery. The prosecutors said a
typewriter ribbon seized during an unsuccessful effort to arrest
Gonzalez in 1985 shows that he was responsible for the series of press
communiqués in which the group claimed credit of the robbery.
The prosecution memo lists other attacks the FBI attributes to Los
Macheteros, including an armed assault on a U.S. Navy bus in Puerto Rico
that killed two sailors and wounded ten, a bombing of nine National
Guard airplanes at an airport in Puerto Rico, and separate rocket
attacks on federal courthouses in Puerto Rico.
Military investigators determined that one of the courthouse attacks was
carried out with a weapon abandoned by the U.S. in Vietnam and provided
to Los Macheteros by Cuba.
Supporters of Gonzalez and of an independent Puerto Rico, were planning
a protest Wednesday at the federal building in the Hato Rey district of
San Juan to coincide with his sentencing in Hartford. In a press
release, the supports asserted that the U.S. "pursues, imprisons,
tortures and kills" those who, like Gonzalez, fight for an independent
Gonzales has been imprisoned without bail since his arrest. His attorney
could not be reached.
Federal prosecutors asked Covello to require Gonzalez to submit to five
years of court supervision upon his release from prison in an effort to
prevent him from becoming active again in the violent wing of the
"To be clear, the government does not regard the defendant as likely to
engage in armed robbery or other violent crimes, given his advanced
age," the prosecutors said in a written sentencing argument. "Los
Macheteros not only remains active in Puerto Rico, but continues to
issue communiqués calling for armed struggle against the commonwealth of
Puerto Rico and the federal government. Continued association with Los
Macheteros therefore presents an ongoing public safety concern."
The government believes that there were 19 participants in the Wells
Fargo conspiracy. Only Gerena has not been apprehended.
Copyright © 2012, The Hartford Courant <http://www.courant.com/>
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