Tuesday, May 10, 2011

FBI arrests long-sought Puerto Rican militant

May 10, 2011 By BEN FOX, Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A Puerto Rican nationalist who was one of two
remaining fugitives sought for one of the largest bank robberies in U.S.
history was arrested Tuesday as he took a morning stroll in a central town
on the island, the FBI said.

Authorities say Norberto Gonzalez Claudio took part in the $7 million
robbery of an armored car depot in West Hartford, Connecticut, in 1983 as
a member of the militant independence group Los Macheteros. Gonzalez
calmly admitted his identity and then refused to say another word as
federal agents and local police arrested him along a jogging track in the
town of Cayey, said Luis Fraticelli, special agent in charge of FBI
operations in Puerto Rico.

"He seemed surprised" but did not put up any resistance, Fraticelli said.

Gonzalez, 65, was living alone in a modest home under a false name, and
authorities believe he still had an active role in the militant group,
which has claimed responsibility for a series of robberies, murders and
bombings in the name of Puerto Rican independence, Fraticelli said.

An older brother, Avelino, was sentenced last year to seven years in
prison after spending more than two decades as a fugitive for his role in
the heist. A third brother, Orlando, was also convicted of taking part in
the robbery and has since been released.

James Bergenn, a Connecticut lawyer who represented Avelino Gonzalez after
he was captured in 2008, said U.S. law enforcement had been closing in on
Tuesday's arrest.

"There's heavy interest in this case. They wanted it done," Bergenn said.
"It's been dormant, but then they started investigating again when they
arrested Avelino."

Most of the violent activities of Los Macheteros took place in the 1970s
and 1980s, but the FBI still considers the group a threat as younger
members have taken on the leadership.

"As long as they continue to advocate the independence of Puerto Rico by
force they will always pose a danger," Fraticelli told The Associated
Press. He spoke in the San Juan federal building that was damaged when
members of Los Macheteros fired an anti-tank weapon at the sixth floor in
October 1983.

Gonzalez is expected to be extradited to Connecticut to faces charges that
include bank robbery, transportation of stolen money and conspiracy. A
nephew, Juan Gonzalez, said family members and supporters were arranging
for a lawyer to represent him.

"The only thing he is guilty of is supporting independence for Puerto
Rico," said Juan Gonzalez, a real estate broker.

Prosecutors have said Los Macheteros, whose name is variously translated
as "Machete Wielders" or "Cane Cutters," are suspected of using the stolen
money to finance bombings and attacks in their push for independence for
the U.S. territory.

The 1983 robbery allegedly was carried out by Victor Manuel Gerena, a
Wells Fargo driver recruited by the independence group. Authorities say
Gerena took two co-workers hostage at gunpoint, handcuffed them and
injected them with an unknown substance to temporarily disable them.
Members of Los Macheteros allegedly helped spirit the money out of the

Fraticelli said that Gerena is alive and living in Cuba and that the U.S.
still hopes to arrest him. He is one of the FBI's 10 most wanted

The alleged leader of the Macheteros, Filiberto Ojeda Rios, was killed in
a 2005 shootout with the FBI at a remote farmhouse in Puerto Rico.


Associated Press writer Michael Melia in Hartford, Connecticut,
contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS that robbery was in an armored car depot in West
Hartford, not a bank depot in Hartford.)

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