Colombia's former anti-corruption chief and a private attorney were extradited from Bogotá to Miami Thursday on charges of a foreign bribery scheme that U.S. authorities say unfolded at a Miami-Dade mall and other locales.
Last June, Luis Gustavo Moreno Rivera, the national director of anti-corruption in the Colombian attorney general’s office, traveled to Miami on an official trip but one with a secret personal agenda, U.S. authorities say.
Moreno, and a fellow attorney acting as his middleman, met privately at the Dolphin Mall in Sweetwater with a Colombian politician who had left the country to evade a corruption investigation. Moreno and the attorney met the politician in the mall bathroom to collect $10,000 in cash stuffed in a large manila envelope — a bribe in exchange for giving him confidential information about the politician's corruption probe back in Colombia, according to U.S. prosecutors in Miami.
Moreno’s alleged shakedown of the Colombian politician, who was secretly working undercover for U.S. authorities, led to the high-ranking Colombian official’s arrest in Bogotá a year ago. Since then, Moreno has pleaded guilty in Colombia to a similar extortion scheme, including testifying about bribing a Supreme Court Justice and other members of the judiciary in that country.
The Colombian attorney who had traveled with him to Miami, Leonardo Luis Pinilla Gomez, was also arrested in Bogotá last June.
Moreno, 36, and Pinilla, 31, have been charged in Miami federal court with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering along with related counts to promote foreign bribery, according to an indictment. Pinilla, represented by attorney Humberto Dominguez, pleaded not guilty on Friday. Moreno, represented by lawyer David Weinstein, is scheduled to be arraigned on May 30.
"He is glad to be in the United States and able to address the charges against him in the U.S. justice system," Weinstein said.
Over the past year, both Moreno and Pinilla were held at La Picota prison in Bogotá, where Colombian drug traffickers are incarcerated.
According to Colombian news reports, Moreno has pleaded guilty to a bribery scheme in his country and cooperated with Colombian officials. Moreno's testimony in Colombia has led to the arrests of the former Supreme Court chief justice and other government officials in that country.
Moreno and Pinilla were extradited to Miami to face charges on a related extortion scheme that played out here.
According to a U.S. criminal complaint, the Colombian politician who assisted U.S. authorities was first approached by Moreno and Pinilla in November 2016 in an attempt to obtain a bribe of 100 million Colombian pesos ($34,500). Moreno and Pinilla offered to give the politician copies of sworn statements taken from Colombian witnesses who had testified against him in the corruption case in his homeland, the complaint said.
In April of last year, the politician and his family left Colombia for Miami, where he contacted both Colombian and U.S. authorities about the alleged extortion scheme. Pinilla, acting as the middleman, stayed in touch with the politician.
Then last June, both Moreno and Pinilla traveled to Miami and met with the politician, who — at the direction of Drug Enforcement Administration agents — provided Moreno and Pinilla with a $10,000 deposit of the bribe money, the complaint said.
Recorded conversations revealed that Moreno and Pinilla discussed the anti-corruption official’s authority to control the probe of the Colombian politician, and that Moreno could inundate his prosecutors with work so that they would be unable to focus on the investigation.
In exchange, Moreno and Pinilla asked for a bribe payment of 400 million Colombian pesos ($132,000) with an additional $30,000 to be paid before Moreno left Miami for Colombia, said the complaint, filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tony Gonzalez.
The complaint further alleges that several of the $100 bills from the $10,000 paid to Moreno and Pinilla were found on Moreno and his wife as they boarded their flight back to Bogotá on June 19, 2017.