U.S. District COURT in MIAMI

Trial date set for ICE agent

 

achardy@ElNuevoHerald.com

The trial of a federal agent accused of extortion and bribery is scheduled to begin in Miami federal court in March, according to a judge’s order filed in the case this week,

U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga set the trial date for the week of March 10 in an order issued Wednesday.

While it was known that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Juan Felipe Martínez was going to trial because he pleaded not guilty Tuesday, the judge’s order marks the first time a specific trial date has been set.

Martin Robert Raskin, Martínez’s Coral Gables attorney, said he was unsure if the defense will be ready for a March trial.

“We have not yet received the discovery materials that the court ordered the government to produce,” said Raskin. “Once we review it, we’ll be in a better position to assess whether a March trial date is realistic.”

In recent statements, the Miami ICE office, said it could not comment on the case because it was under investigation.

“ICE takes accusations of misconduct very seriously,” the most recent statement said. “As public servants working for a law enforcement agency, every employee at ICE is held to the highest standard of professional and ethical conduct.”

Besides setting a trial date, Judge Altonaga also scheduled a status conference for mid-February to determine whether the defense and the government will be ready for trial.

Three days after Martinez was arrested Dec. 20, his attorneys persuaded a magistrate judge to free him on $250,000 bond. But Martinez’s release conditions were tough.

Martinez was ordered to surrender all passports and travel documents and not visit airports, ports, marinas and other transportation hubs to minimize the risk of flight. He also was placed under 24-hour house arrest until Jan. 2, when he was allowed limited travel outside his house between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. He was also outfitted with an electronic monitoring device.

The defendant bonded out after relatives and friends posted 10 percent of the bond, or $25,000.

According to a grand jury indictment handed down Dec. 19, Martínez and several unidentified accomplices in 2010 contacted executives of a commercial and residential construction firm in Pereira, about 200 miles west of Bogotá. The suspects falsely advised company executives that the firm was under investigation and that the U.S. Treasury Department was about to add it to the list of Specially Designated Nationals.

The list, managed by Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, is used by the federal government to freeze bank accounts of designated persons or businesses if they are suspected of illegal dealings such as drug-trafficking. Individuals on the list also can have their visas or other immigration documents revoked.

In total, the Colombian company and certain employees paid $1.9 million to Martinez and others, federal prosecutor Karen Gilbert said at a hearing in the case in December.

Of the total, the ICE agent allegedly received $109,000 during a meeting with a drug-trafficking informant at Bayside Marketplace on March 29, 2011, according to sources familiar with the case.

Martinez’s informant turned out to be Jose Miguel Aguirre Pinzon, who was under surveillance by Drug Enforcement Administration agents, according to people familiar with the case.

Aguirre pleaded guilty, served 1 ½ years in the penitentiary and then was deported to Colombia.

Miami Herald Staff Writer Jay Weaver contributed to this report.

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