MICHAEL MELIA,Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — One of the last defendants in the 1983 robbery of $7 million from an armored car depot pleaded guilty Friday to his role in the record-setting heist, accepting a deal that calls for him to serve five years in prison.
Norberto Gonzalez Claudio, who was captured by the FBI last year in Puerto Rico, had been one of two remaining fugitives in the crime carried out by Los Macheteros, a militant group dedicated to independence for the U.S. Caribbean territory.
Wearing a gray beard and a beige prison jumpsuit, the 67-year-old Gonzalez acknowledged in U.S. District Court that he was a member of the organizing committee that planned the heist and arranged for the money to be sent out of the U.S. mainland to Mexico. Authorities have said they believe the money was used to support the clandestine group’s operations.
Gonzalez pleaded guilty to two charges from the original indictment — foreign transportation of stolen money and conspiracy to rob federally insured bank funds — as well as a new charge of illegal weapons possession related to an automatic pistol found in his home when he was arrested. The plea agreement calls for capping his sentence at five years, and he will receive credit for the time he has spent in custody.
Gonzalez offered only brief responses to the judge’s questions. Hilton Fernandez, a supporter who also served prison time for the robbery, said Gonzalez planned to make a political statement at the sentencing, which was scheduled for Sept. 27.
Gonzalez’s wife, Elda Santiago, was allowed to speak with him briefly before marshals escorted him away in handcuffs.
“I think he is very happy that this part of the process is ending and he can go through his sentence and come back,” she told reporters outside the courthouse.
An older brother, Avelino, was sentenced in 2010 to seven years in prison after spending more than two decades as a fugitive for his role in the heist. A third brother, Orlando, was also convicted of taking part in the robbery and has since been released.
“We are proud of Norberto for being a fighter,” Orlando Gonzalez said outside the courthouse. “He is a fighter for the independence of Puerto Rico.”
Norberto Gonzalez has been detained since he was arrested in May 2011 in the central island town of Cayey, where he had been living under a false name. U.S. authorities said he still had an active role in the Macheteros, which claimed responsibility for robberies, murders and bombings in the 1970s and ’80s.
The brazen holdup of the Wells Fargo depot on Sept. 12, 1983, in West Hartford, Conn., was the largest cash robbery in U.S. history at the time.
Authorities say it was carried out by Victor Manuel Gerena, a Wells Fargo driver recruited by the Macheteros, and other members of the group helped smuggle the money out of the U.S. Gerena is the only remaining fugitive out of 19 defendants charged in the case, and he is one of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted fugitives. The FBI is offering a reward of $1 million for information leading to his arrest.
The reputed leader of the Macheteros, Filiberto Ojeda Rios, was killed in a 2005 shootout with the FBI at a remote farmhouse in Puerto Rico.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.