Norberto Gonzalez Claudio, the 66-year-old Puerto Rican nationalist was held in isolation from other inmates for several weeks, after complaining to supporters about his treatment as he awaits trial in a 1983 robbery because of “safety” concerns, the U.S. Marshals Service said Friday.
Norberto Gonzalez Claudio, who was captured in May in Puerto Rico, was allowed out of his individual cell at the discretion of his jailers at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Rhode Island until officials completed a routine assessment of potential risks to him and other detainees, said Joseph Faughnan, the U.S. marshal for Connecticut.
“They don’t know who he is, what his connections are,” said Faughnan, who added that Gonzalez can now mingle more freely with other inmates. “We’re responsible if somebody kills you.”
Gonzalez is accused of aiding the 1983 robbery of $7 million from a Wells Fargo armored car depot in West Hartford that was orchestrated by Los Macheteros, a group that claimed responsibility for robberies, murders and bombings in the 1970s and 80s in the name of Puerto Rican independence. The FBI says he still had an active role in the militant group when he was found living alone under a false name in the central hills of the U.S. Caribbean territory after more than a quarter century on the lam.
He pleaded not guilty to federal charges including bank robbery, conspiracy and transportation of stolen money at his May 20 arraignment in U.S. District court in Hartford.
In a jailhouse letter, Gonzalez said he was confined to his cell around the clock. When his family visited on Father’s Day, he said, he could only talk to them over a telephone.
“It clearly shows the insensitivity and indifference of these invaders and imperialist abusers,” Gonzalez wrote. He added: “I am strong and full of fight even under these conditions.”
The letter was released by a committee in Puerto Rico supporting Gonzalez and his older brother, Avelino, who pleaded guilty last year to his role in the heist after more than two decades as a fugitive. Avelino Gonzalez Claudio is serving a seven-year sentence at a federal prison in Ashland, Kentucky.
The 1983 heist was the biggest cash robbery in U.S. history at the time. It was allegedly carried out by Victor Manuel Gerena, a Wells Fargo driver recruited by Los Macheteros, and authorities say other members of the group including Norberto Gonzalez helped to smuggle the money out of the United States.
Prosecutors have said Los Macheteros, whose name is translated as “Machete Wielders” or “Cane Cutters,” are suspected of using the money to finance bombings and attacks in their push for independence for the tropical island.