Maylin Silva, a Venezuelan exile activist arrested at Miami International Airport while trying to flee to Caracas to avoid immigration fraud charges, pleaded not guilty during a recent hearing in Miami federal court.
Just before the plea, U.S. Magistrate Judge William C. Turnoff assigned Silva a public defender and told her that a trial date would be set later.
It was the first time that Silva, 63, explained her personal and financial situation in court since she was arrested Nov. 2 at MIA — minutes before trying to board a flight to Caracas.
Silva was arrested originally in New York in October after a grand jury in Miami indicted her in a case involving immigration fraud. The charges allege she filed false applications for immigrants not entitled to them.
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A federal magistrate in Manhattan allowed Silva to be released on bond and permitted her to travel by plane to Miami on condition that the day after her arrival she appear before probation officers to prepare for her trial.
But instead of appearing before probation authorities, Silva went directly to the American Airlines counter at MIA and bought a ticket to Caracas, according to court documents.
When federal agents detained Silva just before she tried to board the plane, they found she was carrying a Venezuelan passport and $11,000 in cash, according to court documents.
Just before showing up at the airline counter, Silva removed the electronic monitoring bracelet she wore on an ankle and threw it in a flower planter in front of the Red Roof Inn motel near the airport where she’d spent the night after arriving from New York, according to the criminal complaint in the case.
Silva, who headed the exile group Todos por Venezuela, initially appeared in court in Miami two weeks ago, sitting in a wheelchair and wearing a khaki detainee uniform. She requested time to hire a local lawyer, and the judge gave her a week to do so.
Still in a wheelchair, Silva told the judge last week that she was unable to hire a private lawyer because she had no access to money or property, allegedly because her children had control of the funds.
Before appointing the public defender, Turnoff inquired whether Silva could afford a private lawyer.
“Are you married?” asked Turnoff.
“No,” replied Silva.
“Are you employed?” Turnoff asked again.
“Yes, I’m a journalist,” she replied.“I write articles.”
But Silva noted that she has been sick and thus has been unable to work.
At no time did Silva mention the charges against her over fraudulent immigration petitions for which she allegedly collected fees.
The judge then asked Silva if she could sell or mortgage an apartment in Central Park West or a condominium in Aventura to pay for a lawyer.
Silva said no because the Central Park West apartment was a rental and the Aventura condominium belonged to a company controlled by her children, and that she had no control over the property.
When Turnoff asked Silva whether she could sell jewelry to hire a lawyer, she said the only jewels worth anything had been seized by federal agents when they arrested her.
At this point, Turnoff appointed a federal public defender to represent Silva.
Alfonso Chardy: 305-376-3435, @AlfonsoChardy