Defense: Venezuelan first lady's nephews were 'novices,' exploited in drug case

By Andrew V. Pestano Follow @AVPLive9 Contact the Author   |  Nov. 9, 2016 at 12:48 PM
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NEW YORK, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- Defense attorneys for the two nephews of Venezuela's first lady said in court that their clients were "novices" and were exploited by U.S. drug enforcement agents.

Both the prosecution and defense criticized the two men's character in opening statements Monday.

Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas, 31, and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, 30, nephews of Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores, the wife of President Nicolas Maduro, are accused of attempting to send more than 1,700 pounds of cocaine from Venezuela to the United States.

Both men were arrested in Haiti in November 2015 during a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration operation. The men pleaded not guilty to drug trafficking conspiracy charges.

U.S. attorney Emil Bove on Monday said the pair "believed they were so powerful in their country they could ship almost a metric ton of cocaine from one airport to another," adding that Flores de Freitas believed they had "complete control" of Caracas' main airport to ship drugs out of the presidential hangar -- portraying the accused as arrogant and braggadocious.

Meanwhile, Campo Flores' attorney, John Zach, repeatedly said the men's actions leading up to the arrest were "stupid" and "dumb" -- adding how the jury would see "how utterly clueless Efrain is -- it's almost embarrassing."

"There are very few people in the world who can get their hands on 800 kilos of cocaine -- Efrain and Franqui are not two of them," Zach said as he described the men as well-connected novices.

Michael Mann, Flores de Freitas' attorney, said the men were exploited. The defense team for the defendants is being paid for by Venezuelan shipping tycoon Wilmer Ruperti, a Maduro ally, The Wall Street Journal reported.

"The DEA and its informants were ... almost giddy to be pursuing these two men," Mann said in his opening statement. "They were utter novices, ripe for exploitation."

The men face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years but they could also be sentenced to life if found guilty. Prosecutors said the men confessed to the charges after their arrest but their defense argues the confession was coerced and illegally obtained.

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