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Feds Oppose Release Of Puerto Rican Nationalist

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Norberto Gonzalez Claudio (FBI Photo)

Norberto Gonzalez Claudio (FBI Photo)

By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN
Associated Press

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) _ A 66-year-old Puerto Rican nationalist awaiting trial in a record-setting 1983 robbery is too dangerous to be released on bond because he was a leader of a group that carried out violent acts in the name of Puerto Rican independence, federal prosecutors said.

Norberto Gonzalez Claudio was a leader in Los Macheteros who kept three loaded guns by his bed, prosecutors said. When he was arrested last year, authorities said they found a detailed bomb-making manual in his residence.

Gonzalez had asked to be released, saying his detention conditions are restricting his communication as he considers his defense strategy. His attorney said in court papers he has no criminal record and is a “gentle, loving man.”

Gonzalez is accused of aiding the $7 million robbery of a Wells Fargo armored car depot in West Hartford, at the time was the biggest cash robbery in U.S. history. He has pleaded not guilty to federal charges including bank robbery, conspiracy and transportation of stolen money.

Prosecutors acknowledge Gonzalez is not accused of participated directly in the robbery. But they said that was true of 18 of the 19 defendants charged in the case, yet several other defendants were detained pending trial based on dangerousness.

Los Macheteros carried out a series of violent acts in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including a 1979 attack on a bus carrying U.S. sailors that killed two and wounded 10, a 1981 attack on Puerto Rico’s Air National Guard base and the 1983 and 1985 launches of anti-tank missiles at the San Juan federal court building, prosecutors said. Gonzalez was an active member of the group at the time the sailors were killed and was a member of the leadership committee at the time of the other violent acts, prosecutors said.

Authorities say a document shows Gonzalez discussed the need to have members with revolutionary experience and that a typewriter seized from his residence in 1985 was used to generate publicity notices in which Los Macheteros claimed credit for the Wells Fargo robbery and rocket attacks.

“In sum, there is clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s release on bond presents a danger to the community,” prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors also said there was “overwhelming evidence” that Gonzalez was a flight risk, saying he remained a fugitive for 25 years and evaded arrest by living under a false identity. They say he faces a sentence of up to 265 years in prison, so he has an incentive to flee.

Gonzalez said in documents filed Sunday that he would honor a promise to appear for trial. His attorneys named eight people in Puerto Rico who are willing to co-sign a bond and said Gonzalez has a son in Stratford, willing to act as his father’s custodian.

“He understands fully that a willful failure to appear would result in very serious consequences to his family, and he will not allow that to happen,” his attorneys wrote.

But prosecutors said the robbery proceeds were never recovered and the co-signers’ pledged equity could be made up from less than one-sixteenth of the missing robbery proceeds if Gonzalez fled.

While Gonzalez promised to appear in court, prosecutors said Los Macheteros denies the legitimacy of the U.S. federal court system.

Gonzalez has been detained at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Rhode Island, where he complained last year about treatment by “imperialist abusers.” He says his time outside his cell has been severely restricted and he has not been allowed to meet in-person with visiting relatives.

Prosecutors say Gonzalez’s security classification in prison was based on his membership in a violent group and say the situation has improved. They say many defendants have been held without bond in complex cases.

The Associated Press left a message for Gonzalez’s attorneys.

Gonzalez’s brother, Avelino Gonzalez Claudio is serving a seven-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in 2010 to his role in the heist.

The robbery was allegedly carried out by Victor Manuel Gerena, a Wells Fargo driver recruited by Los Macheteros, and authorities say other members of the group helped to smuggle the money out of the United States. Prosecutors have said they believe the money was used to finance bombings and attacks in their push for independence for the U.S. Caribbean territory.

     (Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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