Miami-Dade County

Trial of ICE agent gets under way in Miami federal court

By Alfonso Chardy

The much-delayed bribery and extortion trial of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent began in Miami federal court Friday with the selection of a jury of seven women and five men.

U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga will resume selection of alternate jurors on Wednesday morning and has scheduled opening statements in the case against ICE special agent Juan Felipe Martínez for Wednesday afternoon. She said the trial is expected to last 10 to 12 days.

Prosecutors hope to prove to jurors that Martínez, 49, and accomplices allegedly extorted almost $2 million from executives of a Colombian construction company.

According to a Dec. 19 grand jury indictment, in 2010 Martínez and accomplices contacted executives in Pereira, about 200 miles west of Bogotá, the Colombian capital, and falsely advised them that their firm was under investigation and that a unit of the U.S. Treasury Department would add it to a list of so-called 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 some employees paid $1.9 million to Martínez and others to be kept off the list, according to federal court records.

Originally, the trial had been scheduled to begin March 10 but Judge Altonaga delayed it several times because of legal maneuverings by defense attorneys and defense requests for more time to review evidence.