Miami judge postpones trial of ICE agent accused of extortion

08/30/2014 12:38 PM

08/30/2014 10:29 PM

U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga has agreed to a new delay in the Miami federal court trial against a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent accused of extortion.

Altonaga’s order delaying the trial until November was issued Thursday after she reviewed a motion filed by attorneys for the agent who said they needed more time to review copious evidence recently released by prosecutors.

In the defense motion filed Wednesday, attorneys for ICE agent Juan Felipe Martinez said the newly-released evidence contains information that buttresses their client’s assertion he is not guilty of the charges.

“Defendant Juan Felipe Martínez, hereby moves the court to continue the trial in this matter based on the government’s recent disclosure — on the eve of trial — of voluminous discovery material, much of which is highly significant exculpatory information that has been in the government’s possession for years,” the motion says.

At trial, which was to begin in coming days, prosecutors hope to prove to jurors that Martínez and alleged accomplices extorted almost $2 million from executives of a Colombian construction company.

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

The list 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 or terrorism.

In total, the Colombian company and certain employees paid $1.9 million to Martínez and others. Of the total, the ICE agent allegedly received $109,000 during a meeting with a drug-trafficking informant at Bayside Marketplace in 2011.

In the motion seeking a trial delay, Martínez’s attorneys said the turnover of “exculpatory” evidence shows the prosecution is deliberately trying to withhold information that might help their client prove his innocence.

“[This] evidence has, for months, been deliberately withheld by the prosecution team, as part of a pattern of deception and disregard for its discovery obligations,” the defense motion said.

In a separate motion, Martínez’s lawyers indicate that the exculpatory evidence includes new information provided by prosecutors about a key informant in the case, Camilo Gómez.

According to the motion, Gómez — a Colombian national — is a “violent career criminal with a long history of drug trafficking, money laundering and fraud” in Colombia, Panama and the United States. He also filed an “entirely fraudulent asylum petition in 2008,” the defense motion says.

As a result, it adds, Gómez’s testimony against Martínez would not be credible and thus should be excluded at trial.

Judge Altonaga has scheduled a hearing on the issues for early September. In the meantime, she agreed to postpone the trial until early November.

Join the Discussion

Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service