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U.S. judge delivers new blow to Venezuelan ‘first nephews’ on eve of trial

Two nephews of Venezuela’s first lady, Efrain Campo, second from left, 29, and Francisco Flores, right, 30, are about to go on trial on cocaine-smuggling charges in New York.
Two nephews of Venezuela’s first lady, Efrain Campo, second from left, 29, and Francisco Flores, right, 30, are about to go on trial on cocaine-smuggling charges in New York. AP

A federal judge isn’t making it any easier on the nephews of the first family of Venezuela, ruling as their drug trial is about to begin that he won’t block prosecutors from introducing evidence that the cousins lived a wealthy “lifestyle supported through illegitimate” income.

U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty of the Southern District of New York ruled in a final pretrial conference Wednesday that he also won’t stop the government from submitting evidence that Efrain Campo and Francisco Flores, nephews of Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores, planned to get drugs from Colombian rebels to smuggle to the United States. The rulings became available on Thursday.

“The defendants’ request to preclude the government from introducing any references to the ‘FARC’ or the ‘Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios de Colombia’ in the defendants’ post-arrest statements is denied,” Crotty wrote.

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It’s the latest setback for Campo, 29, and Flores, 30, who are charged with conspiring to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States in a case that has further damaged U.S.-Venezuela relations. Opening arguments in their trial are to begin on Monday. Jury selection, which began Wednesday, continued Thursday.

Crotty ruled last month that the men’s alleged confessions and recordings of them talking about a drug deal could be introduced during the trial.

The defendants’ request to preclude the government from introducing any references to the ‘FARC’ or the ‘Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionaries de Colombia’ in the defendants’ post arrest statements is denied.

U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty

Campo told U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents after his arrest that he was making only about $800 a week as the owner of a Panama-based taxi company. But during meetings with DEA confidential sources, he bragged about owning several Ferraris and having access to private aircraft.

The defense argued that comments and pictures from the defendants’ cellphones that show them in different cars and properties doesn’t prove they owned any of the items and therefore shouldn’t be admitted as evidence.

“Evidence of unexplained wealth is inadmissible because the government cannot lay a foundation that the defendants lived beyond their legitimate means,” defense attorney Randall Jackson argued in court papers.

The government argued that the evidence directly contradicts the nephews’ main arguments that they didn’t have the ability or means to pull off such a complex plot. They had access to planes and they could have access to cocaine via their relations with the FARC, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Emil Bove.

“In light of these defenses, evidence that Campo had access to drugs produced by the FARC, the ‘world’s largest supplier of cocaine’ . . . is extremely probative of Campo’s involvement in the charged conspiracy because it demonstrates that he did, in fact, have access to 800 kilograms of cocaine,” Bove argued in court documents.

Crotty also granted the government’s request to introduce evidence of how Campo and Flores obtained weapons and to allow one of the DEA’s confidential sources to testify that the white powdery substance he examined was cocaine.

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