EL VOCERO, February 8, 2008
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After being weighed down by an arrest warrant for him for a little more than 22 years, for the robbery of the Wells Fargo company in Hartford, Connecticut, agents of the Puerto Rican Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in Manatí yesterday arrested Avelino González Claudio, presumably a member of the Popular Boricua Army-The Macheteros.
“It took us 22 years, five months and eight days to capture Mr. Avelino González Claudio,” expressed the head of the FBI, Luis Fraticelli, during a press conference.
The accused appeared at an initial hearing before magistrate Marcos López, who ordered his detention at the Detention Center in Guaynabo. The Magistrate set an identity and bond hearing for Monday February 11.
González Claudio looked totally different from the photo submitted by the FBI. He looks much thinner, with long gray hair. The accused appeared tranquil at the side of his attorney Juan Ramón Acevedo.
The accused was intercepted by authorities as he drove his vehicle on the De Diego Expressway in the area ManatÃ, near the Jardines de Mónaco urbanization.
Fraticelli indicated that González Claudio, 65 years old, went by the name José Ortega Morales and was employed as a teacher in a private institution.
“He admitted he was Avelino González Claudio, and his fingerprints, which we sent to our headquarters, confirmed that the person we arrested today (yesterday) was Avelino González Claudio,” he affirmed.
González Claudio is accused of the armed robbery of $7 million from the depot of the Wells Fargo company in Connecticut, as well as charges of conspiracy, aggravated robbery and interference with commerce by robbery.
González Claudio is facing 275 years in prison if he is found guilty during trial.
He was sought, along with his brother, Norberto González Claudio, “ who is still a fugitive” and Víctor Manuel Gerena, accused of the same acts. Responding to questions from the press, Fraticelli said he believes that Gerena is living in Cuba.
“Mr. González Claudio and his brother, Norberto González Claudio, had been described on the FBI’s Internet site as fugitives under the section for domestic terrorism fugitives,” Fraticelli expressed, indicating that the FBI offered a reward for information leading to the arrest of González Claudio and $1 million for Gerena.
Fraticelli stated that in addition, federal agents had also searched the residence of González Claudio in Jardines de Mónaco in Manatí, but he refused to provide additional details about the operation or about information related to how they learned of his whereabouts.
He also refused to comment on whether the arrest came about as a result of the four searches conducted by the FBI in February of 2006 in San Juan, Trujillo Alto, San Germán, Aguadilla and Isabela.
Responding to questions from the press, Fraticelli affirmed that the group The Macheteros continues to be active, due to the statements of its members in activities such as the well attended vigil carried out by independentists last January 10 in front of the federal court, as well as statements through press releases.
“They themselves have declared that they want armed struggle and that they have not renounced armed struggle. If they continue making this type of expression, the FBI considers The Macheteros an active group and we will continue the investigation, because everyone knows that the top investigative priority of the FBI is to prevent terrorist attacks,” he pointed out.
In response to questions from the press as to whether he considers those whose homes were searched in February of 2006 to be Macheteros leaders, Fraticelli responded in the affirmative.
In fact, one of the homes searched was Liliana Laboy’s, who attended the initial hearing for González Claudio at federal court. Laboy responded to Fraticelli’s expressions saying, “I was a union leader; I have been president of the community in which I live, and I am a community leader. Thus, it is a recognition that they say I am leader of an organization which, in this country, if it didn’t exist, it would have to be invented… these are expressions of Fraticelli, the ex Puerto Rican.”
She mentioned that during the search of her apartment, located in the building at De Diego 444, authorities confiscated various documents, including her tax returns for the past 30 years, a file of the independentist organization “Puerto Rico Pa’lante” and $750 of this organization’s money in checks and cash.
The hearing was also attended by one of the leaders of the Vieques cause, José Che Paralitici, and family members of the accused.
On the other hand, the legal representative of González Claudio indicated that he will have to analyze whether to waive the identity hearing, and he anticipated that he will ask that his client be released on bond.