The Associated PressMiami Herald
December 15, 2008
MIAMI -- A Uruguayan man who served as a driver and lookout during a key meeting in the cover-up of a Latin American political scandal involving a cash-stuffed suitcase was sentenced Monday to nearly three years in U.S. prison for acting as an illegal foreign agent.U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard imposed the 34-month sentence on Rodolfo Wanseele, 41, after prosecutors described how his close ties to Venezuela's intelligence service showed he was trusted to take part in the plot, even if briefly."While his involvement was short in duration, it was important," Lenard said at a hearing in Miami. Wanseele, who lives in Miami, is the third South American sentenced to prison in the case. It revolved around Venezuela's attempt to conceal the source of a suitcase filled with nearly $800,000, which was intercepted last year at an airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina.U.S. prosecutors said the money was a gift from Venezuela to the campaign of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez - a charge both Latin American governments denied.The scheme involved ensuring the silence of the man who carried the suitcase - dual Venezuelan-U.S. citizen Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson - and creating a false paper trail for the money. But Antonini was cooperating with the FBI and wore recording devices at meetings with the South Americans in Florida.Wanseele pleaded guilty earlier this year to acting as an illegal Venezuelan agent in the U.S. He acknowledged that Ver opciones avanzadashe met an agent of Venezuela's intelligence service, known by the acronym DISIP, at the Miami airport in October 2007 and assisted the agent in a meeting with Antonini at a coffee shop.That included taking photos of FBI agents who were watching the meeting and driving 43 miles to cover a seven-mile distance between the coffee shop and a local gambling casino in an attempt to elude surveillance.Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Mulvihill pushed for a tough sentence, saying that a search of Wanseele's cell phone and computer showed numerous contacts with DISIP before the agent's arrival."He should be treated severely," Mulvihill said.Wanseele's attorney, Sowmya Bharathi, argued that he was a minor player and deserved leniency."He was not a leader or organizer," she said. "It was the worst mistake of his life."Counting time already served, Wanseele will spend about two more years behind bars. He will likely be deported to Uruguay once his sentence is completed.The main player in the suitcase scandal, wealthy Venezuelan businessman Franklin Duran, will be sentenced next month. He was the only one of the four to go to trial and faces a maximum of 15 years in prison.