Miami crime expert to plead guilty in Venezuela graft case

MIAMI (AP) — A University of Miami professor who is a top expert on money laundering in Latin America is scheduled to plead guilty for trying to hide $3 million in proceeds from a corruption scheme with Venezuela’s socialist government.

Bruce Bagley, 73, was arrested in November on three counts of money laundering. Authorities said the charges arose from deposits he received from bank accounts in Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates that allegedly contained the stolen proceeds from a Venezuelan public housing project.

Soon afterward, he was freed on $300,000 bail after pleading not guilty. But this week, filings in the New York federal court indicated he would change his plea to guilty in a hearing schedule for March 20. His lawyer, Peter Quijano, declined to comment.

Bagley, an international studies professor, is co-author of “Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime and Violence in the Americas Today,” published in 2015, among other books. He has testified before Congress, as an expert in court and been interviewed by numerous news organizations including The Associated Press.

Over the years he held numerous leadership positions at the University of Miami, where he had a reputation as a brilliant scholar.

After the indictment, the University of Miami suspended Bagley.

William F. Sweeney Jr., head of the FBI’s New York office, said in a release at the time of the arrest that Bagley profited by helping others launder the proceeds of their crimes.

“About the only lesson to be learned from Professor Bagley today is that involving oneself in public corruption, bribery, and embezzlement schemes is going to lead to an indictment,” he said.

According to the indictment, Bagley transferred 90% of the money into the accounts of a co-conspirator to conceal the nature, source and ownership of the funds. But he kept a 10% commission for himself.

The funds came from a food company controlled by a Colombian individual, according to the indictment. That individual is Colombian businessman Alex Saab, according to a person familiar with the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity about an ongoing probe.

The U.S. Treasury Department last year sanctioned Saab for allegedly running a corruption network that profited from a no-bid contract to import food to Venezuela on behalf of Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government. Saab also has been indicted in Miami federal court on charges of money laundering tied to a public housing program run by Maduro.

Saab’s lawyer, Abelardo de la Espriella, did not respond to a request for comment.

Bagley’s accounts were shut down in October 2018 due to suspicious activity. But, federal authorities said, he opened another account and allegedly continued to accept the dirty Venezuelan cash several more times.

Throughout the alleged scheme, he discussed with a co-conspirator the fact the funds he was moving “represented the proceeds of foreign bribery and embezzlement stolen from the Venezuelan people,” according to the indictment. ___

Follow Goodman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/APjoshgoodman

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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