An ex-judge from Venezuela and his family came into Miami a few weeks ago with a plan for a lovely, two week, prepaid vacation at Disney World.
But as it turns out, Benny Paleri-Bacchi never made it to the park.
He was one of three people from Venezuela who were charged in a federal drug trafficking case, in the first time that ex top officials from the administration of the late Hugo Chavez have ever been connected to top Colombian drug bosses. These ex-officials have been accused of taking bribes, in exchange for letting drug traffickers send cocaine from Venezuela to Mexico to be distributed in the US.
Last week, the ex-judge, 46, entered a not guilty plea in federal court in Miami, to the charge that he gave protection for a convicted drug trafficker from Colombia, who moved tons of cocaine from Venezuela to America.
The ex-judge is in the middle of a long criminal inquiry that targeted an ex-Interpol director in Venezuela, named Rodolfo Mcturk, and also an ex military leader, Hugo Barrios, who was apprehended in Aruba last month.
It is not known yet if Barrios is going to wind up in federal court as Palmeri-Bacchi, or if he will be prosecuted in Venezuela.
Barrios is accused of drug trafficking, and helping kingpins in Colombia, including Wilber Varela, by letting them send their loads of coke from Venezuela and stopping them from being put under arrest. They also are accused of giving them information about the military and investigations by the police. Varela is believed to have given bribes to the military director and many other high ranking officials in the military and government.
Barrios also is accused of bringing the shipments from the cartel into the US. The indictment states that Barrios sold over 100 kgs of cocaine to one of the members of Varela’s criminal ring in Colombia.
Varela moved his cocaine business from Colombia to Venezuela in 2004 so he would not be arrested, but he was killed in 2008. However, the bribery by many officials continued all the way through 2010, according to the current indictment.
Barrios was detained in Aruba because he was believed to have been trafficking drugs and helping guerrillas in Colombia. He also was a close friend of President Chavez, who died last year.
Palmeri-Bacchi has also been charged in the current indictment with laundering money and obstructing justice, as well as several counts of extortion. He is alleged to have threatened a man with violence to get money and property from him.
The assistant US attorney on the case put on a presentation last week at the ex-judge’s bond hearing that was supposed to show that Palmeri-Bacchi sent threatening letters to the man above. Emails also were sent that were alleged to include video of a murder and also images of prisoners being sodomized in a jail in Venezuela.
However, the bond hearing was delayed when the lawyer for the defendant agreed to the request by the prosecution for detention before the trial. This was based upon his flight risk and danger to the region.