MIAMI – A former immigration official at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas admitted accepting bribes worth $170,000 from a Venezuelan armored-car company, El Nuevo Herald newspaper reported on Friday.
Gerardo Chavez was the Immigration and Customs Enforcement attaché at the U.S. Embassy between 2000-2005.
He admitted taking kickbacks in exchange for ordering the purchase of armored vehicles for different U.S. missions in Latin America, according to El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language sister publication of The Miami Herald.
Besides the bribes from the armored-car company owned by Roberto Jose Perez Hernandez, Chavez made another $250,000 from investments in Venezuela’s illicit foreign-exchange market.
“Perez, who faces no charges and collaborated with the FBI investigation, was given a period of 60 days last March to explain where the money came from,” the newspaper said.
It added that at the time the investigation began, the official had been promoted as ICE’s deputy director of international operations in Washington.
Chavez was sentenced in a Virginia court to 7 1/2 years in jail on charges of accepting bribes and money laundering, the Miami daily said.
U.S. authorities also confiscated properties and bank accounts from Chavez, as well as funds deposited in a Miami bank under the name of Roberto Jose Perez Hernandez, president and owner of the armored vehicle firm Blindajes del Caribe, or Blincar, the Caracas company implicated in paying the kickbacks.
Federal prosecutors named as an aggravating factor the fact that Chavez approved 325 preferential procedures for expediting U.S. visas applied for by business friends and as favors.
In all, the daily said, the U.S. government acquired 57 cars, of which 45 were armored and delivered in August 2007 when Chavez learned of the investigation, the daily said. EFE