Pedro Adriano Borges might not be in jail today if only he had waited 20 years to take part in a scheme that shipped a measly $93,000 worth of goods from Miami to Cuba.
Since the U.S. Congress changed one of the laws covering the trade embargo against Cuba in 2002, U.S. agricultural goods can be legally exported to Cuba and hit a whopping $711 million in 2008. They hit $430 million last year.
But the Cuba-born Borges, 68, was a couple of years ahead of that law and is now jailed in South Florida while awaiting a federal trial under a 1997 indictment charging that he and four other men illegally shipped 18 containers to Cuba.
The goods sent between 1993 and 1996 included spices and mayonnaise as well as light bulbs and diapers, according to court documents in the case. The receivers in Cuba paid $93,000 for the shipments.
Borges had fled to Costa Rica three years before those charges were filed, breaking his parole on a prior charge of money laundering in New Jersey. He was detained in Panama in November and was swiftly put on a plane to Florida.
He could face up to 35 years in prison 10 for violating the Trading With the Enemy Act and other embargo laws, 20 for helping to launder the money that went from Cuba to Miami to pay for the shipments and five for conspiracy to launder money.
Federal public defender Darsey Houlihon and Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Watson are scheduled to defend and prosecute Borges, respectively, at a trial set to begin Monday though delays and a plea bargain likely because of Borges age.
Three of the five men accused in the scheme pled guilty and were sentenced to 18 months each, including Javier Ferreiro Parga, a Spanish businessman living in Havana who was the buyer of the goods. A fourth fought the charges in a trial and was acquitted.
Borges had just finished serving a 39-month prison sentence on a separate money laundering charge in New Jersey but still had three years of parole to serve when he moved to Miami in 1993 and went to work at Central Trading International, an export-import company.
On July 31, 1995, he was granted permission to go to Costa Rica for 21 days on business but never returned to the United States, according to court documents, instead sending back an odd string of excuses for his absence.
One fax to his Cuban-American parole officer said he was helping Cubans to win their liberty, hinting that he was somehow involved in anti-Castro activities. Another message essentially told the parole officer see ya in Havana, the court documents show.
Its not known what he did in Costa Rica from 1994 to 2012, but the records show he has a wife, citizenship and property worth $1.2 million in the Central American nation. He appears to have sought a passport in the U.S. Embassy in either Costa Rica or Panama last year, and the denial may have triggered an alert to law enforcement in the region.
The 1997 indictment named him in six of the 28 counts alleging that the five accused men had arranged to ship the containers to Cuba with fraudulent documents saying they were headed to the Caribbean island of Curacao.
In fact, they were diverted to Havana when they reached the ports of Rio Haina in the Dominican Republic and Progreso in Mexicos Yucatan Peninsula, according to the court documents.
Ferreiro pled guilty to violating the embargo and testified against fellow Spanish businessman Juan Torres Manzano. In exchange, prosecutors dropped the money laundering charges and he served 16 months of his 18-month sentence.
Torres fought the charges, and was acquitted. Ferreiro and Torres were deported to Spain. Defendants Kenneth Broder and Carlos Fernandez also pled guilty.
Ferreiro had been living in Cuba with María Elena Torralba, the daughter of Army Gen. and Sugar Minister Diocles Torralba and the widow of Interior Ministry Col. Tony de La Guardia, executed by firing squad alongside Army Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa and two others in 1989 for alleged corruption and drug trafficking.
An earlier version of this article misstated the figure of U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba last year.