October 12, 2016 - 4:59 PM
NEW YORK - Statements obtained by federal agents from two nephews of Venezuela's first lady when they were flown to the U.S. to face trial on drug charges are admissible in court, a judge ruled Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty in Manhattan said in a written ruling that statements made by Efrain Campo, 29, and Francisco Flores, 30, can be used at a trial scheduled to start next month.
The men, nephews of Cilia Flores, Venezuela's first lady, were arrested in Haiti last November and flown to New York. They have pleaded not guilty to conspiring to import 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States.
Randall Jackson, an attorney for Campo, declined comment. An attorney for Flores did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
The judge based his ruling on evidence he heard during a two-day hearing last month, when it was revealed that a father-son team of informants helped set up a Drug Enforcement Administration sting that resulted in the arrests.
The defendants said in declarations in support of a request to suppress their post-arrest statements that they were terrorized after their arrests and feared they were being kidnapped and might be killed.
But the judge said the evidence does not support a conclusion that the men were mentally intimidated, coerced or deceived before Campo was interrogated for over two hours and Flores was questioned for less than one hour.
The defendants said they were arrested by heavily armed, masked men who wore no visible identification before they were turned over to six men who identified themselves as DEA agents. They said they were told by U.S. agents that if they did not co-operate, they would likely die in a U.S. prison and never see their families again.
"Even if defendants feared being kidnapped or possibly murdered immediately after the arrest by the Haitian authorities, the same cannot be said about the time after defendants were transferred to the DEA's custody," Crotty said.
The judge noted that the defendants were fluent in English and Campo is a lawyer and mentioned that fact as he signed away his right to remain silent.
"The DEA agents testified credibly that defendants wanted to talk and did not appear to be in any kind of distress," Crotty wrote. "There is no credible evidence that the DEA agents used mental or physical coercion in eliciting Defendants' waiver or statements."
News from © The Associated Press, 2016