January 25, 2008
A Venezuelan lawyer who got a call from his government's spy agency last summer to coordinate a coverup of an $800,000 campaign contribution to Argentina's new president admitted Friday to being an illegal foreign agent in the United States.
Moises Maionica, 36, pleaded guilty in Miami federal court to charges of conspiring and acting as an unregistered agent for the Venezuelan government.
Maionica, who works as a corporate lawyer, is cooperating with the federal investigation, which has implicated four others in a plot to cover up the Venezuela government's role in the highly controversial election donation to Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
News of the donation spread soon after a suitcase stuffed with the cash was confiscated by Argentine authorities from a passenger on a chartered plane that had flown from Caracas to Buenos Aires on Aug. 4.
A hemispheric political scandal escalated when U.S. authorities charged Maionica and four other men in December with plotting to silence the passenger, a Key Biscayne businessman named Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, who is wanted on related customs charges in Argentina.
Prosecutors have since stirred up intrigue with these allegations:
• The governments of Argentina and Venezuela collaborated in the coverup.
• The cash-filled suitcase was meant for Fernández, who was then campaigning for president.
• The cash belonged to national oil giant Petróleos de Venezuela, which chartered the flight.
According to a new court document, Maionica received a call from the director of the Venezuelan intelligence agency known as DISIP to join the conspiracy after the cash was seized from Antonini by customs officials in Argentina.
On Aug. 23, Maionica met with two other accused conspirators, Franklin Duran and Carlos Kaufman, and Antonini at Jackson's Steakhouse in Fort Lauderdale.
Antonini, who reached out to the FBI after he was released in Argentina, was wearing a wire.
''During the meeting, Duran told Antonini that foreign government authorities would pursue Antonini if Antonini said that the seized funds did not belong to him,'' according to the court record, which accompanied Maionica's plea agreement.
''During the meeting Maionica further advised Antonini that Petróleos de Venezuela would pay for all the expenses and financial penalties that Antonini might incur as a result of the seizure of the $800,000,'' the document said.
Maionica continued to play a central role in the alleged coverup in other meetings and phone calls with Antonini through December.
Miami attorney Ruben Oliva, who is representing Maionica, said his client got the call from the Venezuelan intelligence director to join the conspiracy just before he and his family were going on a Disney cruise last August.
After Friday's hearing, Oliva said his client did not realize he was breaking the law, though added that ``ignorance of the law is no excuse.''
The others charged in the case: Kauffmann, 35, and Duran, 40, both of Venezuela, and Uruguayan Rodolfo Edgardo Wanseele Paciello, 40, who lives in Miami. They were arrested last month. A fifth defendant, Antonio Jose Canchica Gomez, 37, of Venezuela, is still at large.
Each is charged with being unregistered agents of the Venezuelan government. A trial date is set for March 17 before U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard. Maionica, who faces up to 10 years in prison, will be sentenced April 4.
According to the federal indictment, the coverup was orchestrated by the director of Venezuela's intelligence service, who used the code name ``Alvero.''
Maionica coordinated a call in which ''Alvero'' contacted the Key Biscayne businessman in November to address concerns about Antonini's role in the plot.
On Friday, Mulvihill said Antonini was carrying the suitcase at the request of one of the other seven passengers aboard the chartered plane.
''Mr. Antonini was unaware that the $800,000 was in the suitcase, as the suitcase belonged to one of the other passengers,'' Mulvihill said.
He said the suitcase containing the cash was taken on the plane by an assistant to a ''high level official'' of Petróleas de Venezuela.